Dec 21, 2016
NYC Health + Hospitals Interim President and CEO Stanley Brezenoff and Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Nisha Agarwal have joined together to issue a reassuring message to New Yorkers who may not be accessing health care services for fear of having their immigration status disclosed.
In an “open letter” to immigrant New Yorkers written in 14 languages, the two city officials assure the community that NYC Health + Hospitals, the largest public health care system in the United States, remains committed to its mission to serve all New Yorkers, without exception, and regardless of immigration status. The letter underscores NYC Health + Hospitals’ commitment to protect patients’ right to privacy, and keep immigrant status completely confidential.
“At NYC Health + Hospitals, our primary concern is your health, not your immigration status,” said Stanley Brezenoff, Interim President and CEO of the public health care system. “We stand firm in our commitment to provide quality care for all New Yorkers. We want immigrant New Yorkers to understand they can seek health care without fear.”
“The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs is proud to work with NYC Health + Hospitals as they continue to serve the City’s most vulnerable immigrant communities. Our shared commitment to immigrant communities matters more than ever and we are pleased to jointly publish this open letter to encourage immigrants to seek health care services,” said Nisha Agarwal, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. “As part of this partnership, we are excited to bring ActionNYC’s free immigration legal services to immigrant patients in Health + Hospitals’ long-term care settings.”
ActionNYC, a partnership between the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and the City University of New York, offers free, safe immigration legal help to immigrant New Yorkers at locations across the city. ActionNYC now provides immigration legal services to immigrant patients in NYC Health + Hospitals long-term care facilities. ActionNYC’s legal help will provide long-term care patients with much-needed legal support and assistance.
NYC Health + Hospitals’ promise of privacy reflects New York City’s overall policy that directs city employees to protect the confidential information of people seeking city services, including immigration status. The letter from Mr. Brezenoff and Commissioner Agarwal states in part, “We respect you and want to help you get the health care you deserve. When you visit any of our health care facilities, we do not collect information about your immigration status and we never release patient information without authorization by the patient or without being required to do so by law. Our staff will keep it private and confidential. Our health centers and hospitals have a long and proud history of caring for everyone. Our commitment is strong. It has not changed.
The open letter will be distributed to NYC Health + Hospitals patients and staff, community and immigrant advocacy organizations, and ethnic community papers across the five boroughs. The letter is available in the top languages spoken by patients in the health system: English, Spanish, French, Haitian Creole, Russian, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Korean, Urdu, Bengali, Polish, Albanian, Hindi and Arabic, and urges immigrants not to be afraid to go to any public hospital, emergency room or community-based health center, and reinforces NYC Health + Hospitals’ policy against disclosing patient information.
“Today our city is sending a clear message: Our hospitals welcome immigrants and will always be safe places to get quality care without fear that your information will be shared,” said Theo Oshiro, Deputy Director of Make the Road NY. “In this tragic national atmosphere our city continues to lead by opening its doors. We commend our city for making it very clear that the doors of New York City’s hospitals are open to all.”
“It is critical that all New Yorkers know that when they use New York City Health + Hospitals their personal information is safe. New York City has long been a leader in providing secure, affordable, and high quality health care to all New Yorkers regardless of income or insurance status,” said Steve Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “The NYIC applauds NYC Health + Hospitals and The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs for its release of this important reassurance during a time of intense anti-immigrant rhetoric.”
Similar open letters were issued in 2006, 2007 and 2011, in response to heightened rhetoric and tensions concerning immigration laws.
To help determine whether uninsured patients are eligible for Medicaid and other available insurance programs, NYC Health + Hospitals financial counseling staff must ask patients for information that may include immigration status, proof of income, home address and date of birth. This information is kept completely confidential.
“NYC Health + Hospitals has always held a policy of not collecting information about patients’ immigration status and never releasing patient information without authorization by the patient or without being required to do so by law,” said Council Member Carlos Menchaca, Chair of the Committee on Immigration. “This is not new or in response to the changing political climate. I thank NYC Health + Hospitals for stepping up in this moment of high tension and fear and reminding immigrant New Yorkers that they are welcome with open arms and will receive the care that they need.”
“Here in New York, we treat health care as a human right that everybody is entitled to,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Committee on Health. “We know that immigrant communities are going to face a lot of hardships in the coming years, so it’s critically important that here in New York City, we do everything in our power to create an accommodating, safe environment. We cannot let people ignore their health needs out of fear of reprisal, no matter their status. I’m thrilled that Stanley Brezenoff, Commissioner Nisha Agarwal and their extraordinary staffs are taking it upon themselves to set a tone of acceptance and inclusion that values the dignity of human life.”