Controversy Around Sanctuary Spaces Reaches Hospitals

Laura Joszt

There are many reasons why people in the United States forgo needed medical care, and experts usually agree that not getting needed medical care can ultimately be costlier for the health system. Sometimes, the cost of care is too much and patients delay care or don’t get care at all. Sometimes, they don’t have access to the care they need or want because of where they live. Sometimes, people don’t get care because they are undocumented immigrants and afraid to seek the care they need.

A new viewpoint in JAMA has proposed a way to make it safe for undocumented immigrants to get care: sanctuary hospitals. Currently, these immigrants are at risk of being picked up by agents from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). They argue that healthcare professionals should support undocumented immigrants by having hospitals and healthcare facilities be safe spaces.

Authors Altaf Saadi, MD; Sameer Ahmed, JD; and Mitchell H. Katz, MD, wrote that undocumented immigrants are already some of the most vulnerable members of communities and face issues with access to care. An increased fear of deportation is dissuading them from accessing healtj services, which will have adverse healthcare consequences.

“Concerns by immigrants about obtaining preventive care or receiving care when they are ill could lead to poor control of chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, untreated injuries, spread of infectious diseases, and increased emergency department visits, furthering the financial burden of preventable hospitalizations on the health care system,” they wrote.

Under previous administrations, ICE recognize that certain locations, such as hospitals, schools, and places of worship, should be left undisturbed except in certain situations. Now, there have been reports of undocumented immigrants being picked up when they went to the hospital to pick up a child or when they went to the doctor after being injured on the job.

“There has always been a sense among many healthcare professionals that medicine represents a higher calling, with a commitment to serve those who are underserved, protect those who are less fortunate, and provide care, particularly emergency services, regardless of the ability of an individual to pay for those services or their immigration status,” the authors wrote. “These ideals are what attract many to the field of medicine and have garnered the respect of the public for decades.”
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