Anx­ious im­mi­grants avoid­ing med­i­cal care

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - NEWS -

LOS AN­GE­LES — They need to pre­pare, they say, in case they never come back.

Pa­tients at the St. John’s Well Child & Fam­ily Cen­ter in South Los An­ge­les have re­cently started ask­ing for copies of their med­i­cal records. Some re­quest ex­tra medicine from their doc­tors, tak­ing home as much as they’ll sup­ply.

“They want to have a stock­pile,” clinic Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Jim Man­gia said. “There’s this tremen­dous fear that on their way to take their kids to school, or on their way to the clinic, or on their way into the store, they’re go­ing to get picked up and de­ported.”

Health care providers say Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ag­gres­sive moves against il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion are pos­ing risks to the health of many Cal­i­for­ni­ans, as im­mi­grant par­ents can­cel med­i­cal ap­point­ments or wait un­til the last minute to seek treat­ment.

Oth­ers are ask­ing to leave pub­lic pro­grams be­cause they’re wor­ried their per­sonal in­for­ma­tion will end up with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. Even more seem to be feel­ing anx­ious or de­pressed be­cause of pos­si­ble raids, prompt­ing some providers to of­fer spe­cial train­ing to deal with such men­tal health is­sues among im­mi­grants.

And the re­cent anx­i­ety has ex­tended be­yond those in the coun­try with­out le­gal autho­riza­tion, health ad­vo­cates say.

St. John’s, which treats more im­mi­grants who lack le­gal sta­tus than any clinic in the state, of­ten hears from pa­tients who are afraid they’ll run into fed­eral au­thor­i­ties on their way to the clinic, em­ploy­ees said. In the last sev­eral months, staff mem­bers have prac­ticed form­ing a hu­man chain around the fa­cil­ity, in case im­mi­gra­tion agents do show up one day.

Health ad­vo­cates say im­mi­grants’ re­luc­tance to seek med­i­cal care is a step back­ward for a state that spent years en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to sign up for health in­sur­ance and make reg­u­lar doc­tor vis­its under the Af­ford­able Care Act.

Mayra Al­varez, head of the L.A.-based ad­vo­cacy group the Chil­dren’s Part­ner­ship, re­called a story of a Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can boy who asked his mother if he was go­ing to be de­ported, though he was born in the United States.

“It’s sort of this blurred line be­tween un­doc­u­mented and doc­u­mented,” Al­varez said. “All you need is one story in our com­mu­nity, one ex­am­ple of a pickup, a de­por­ta­tion, and it spreads like wild­fire.”

The pa­tient calls started shortly af­ter Trump took of­fice, said Dulce Valen­zuela, who works the front desk at St. John’s.

“Their No. 1 con­cern was, ‘If I go in, is my in­for­ma­tion go­ing to be given to him?’ ” she said.

Though Valen­zuela re­as­sures pa­tients they’ll be safe, St. John’s has ex­pe­ri­enced an 8 per­cent drop in vis­its among pa­tients lack­ing le­gal sta­tus across the clinic’s 14 South­ern Cal­i­for­nia sites, Man­gia said.

Im­mi­gra­tion agents are pro­hib­ited under fed­eral law from en­ter­ing health care fa­cil­i­ties. Still, staff mem­bers were re­cently trained in how to read an Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment war­rant and also taught to link arms out­side the clinic door to block agents from en­ter­ing.

“This is L.A.,” said Mario Chavez, the clinic’s di­rec­tor of gov­ern­ment af­fairs. “If ICE re­ally wanted to scare peo­ple, they could just do raids here.”

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has said it will tar­get any of the 11 mil­lion peo­ple in the coun­try il­le­gally.

A man was picked up af­ter he dropped off his daugh­ter at school. An­other was de­tained on his front lawn. A young girl was stopped by agents on her way to have gall­blad­der surgery and then fol­lowed to the hos­pi­tal.

For years, health ad­vo­cates had been push­ing Cal­i­for­ni­ans, in­clud­ing im­mi­grants who lack le­gal sta­tus, to go to the doc­tor. Reg­u­lar vis­its could catch prob­lems that would oth­er­wise re­sult in big emer­gency room bills, they said. Now some worry those med­i­cal is­sues are go­ing un­ad­dressed again.

A Kaiser Fam­ily Foun­da­tion sur­vey found that some pa­tients were mak­ing fewer ap­point­ments for check­ups for their kids, and some ex­pec­tant moth­ers are skip­ping prenatal care.

Edgar Aguilar, pro­gram man­ager of Dig­nity Health’s Com­mu­nity Health Ini­tia­tive of Kern County, said work­ers try­ing to en­roll more peo­ple no­ticed a drop last year in how many peo­ple would open the door when they came around.

“They could tell they were there, but the door re­mained closed,” he said.

Gina Fer­azzi / Ttri­bune News Ser­vice

Mario Chavez, di­rec­tor of gov­ern­ment af­fairs at St. John’s Well Child & Fam­ily Cen­ter in Los An­ge­les, talks with em­ploy­ees about the clinic’s plan if ICE shows up. The clinic is the big­gest provider of health care for un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants in the...

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