NYC Health + Hospitals’ “Open Letter” Sets an Inspiring Example That Could and Should Be Copied Across the Country

NYC Health + Hospitals’ “Open Letter” Sets an Inspiring Example That Could and Should Be Copied Across the Country

By Gabrielle Lessard, NILC senior policy attorney
JANUARY 5, 2017

Uncertainty about increased immigration enforcement has caused some immigrant and mixed–immigration status families to question whether it is safe to seek health care. Health care providers have reported appointment cancellations and have reached out to NILC for advice about reassuring their patients.

That’s why it’s been so inspiring to see NYC Health + Hospitals, which runs the public hospitals and clinics in New York City, publish a message of welcome to immigrant New Yorkers in a public letter that can serve as a model for health systems around the country.

The “Open Letter to Immigrant New Yorkers” renews a commitment, expressed in similar letters in 2006, 2007, and 2011, to protect patients’ privacy and, in particular, the privacy of their immigration status information. The letter, signed by Stanley Brezenoff, Health + Hospitals’ interim president and CEO, and Nisha Agarwal, the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, is available online in 14 languages. It’s a must-read for health care providers across the country.

The letter opens by reassuring patients that it is safe to visit their facilities. “Do not be afraid to go to the doctor, the clinic, the hospital, or the emergency room,” it says. “All immigrants can get medical care in New York City, regardless of immigration status or ability to pay. We want you to seek care in any setting without fear.” It goes on to state that Health + Hospitals providers care about their patients, noting that many are immigrants or children of immigrants themselves.

The letter also informs patients that the system will help them, whether or not they have insurance or can pay out of pocket for care, and that the city’s municipal ID card can be used for patient identification.

Towards its closing, the letter reiterates the system’s confidentiality policy and reinforces its importance by saying that there will be consequences for employees who fail to comply. “Our policy is clear, NYC Health + Hospitals employees cannot give your information to ANYONE else without authorization by the patient or without being required to do so by law. All of our employees know that if they break this promise they can lose their job.”

It’s one letter in one city (albeit the largest in the country), but it’s a good example for health care providers everywhere.