health care

Protest Calls Attention to Alleged Discrimination at East Boston Community Hospital

An advocacy group said the hospital has been discriminating against a certain class of patients by underserving them - mainly low income and immigrant women. The hospital denies the allegations

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At least a dozen people, mainly low-income women, are being discriminated against by a community hospital, according to an immigrant advocacy group, which adds some of the patients have suffered lingering health issues and even death due to the lack of quality care.

Demanding justice, immigrant advocates at Centro Presente and former patients, were joined by Boston City Councilor At-Large Julia Mejia and held a rally outside the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center on Wednesday morning. 

"For me, this is not just about political theater. This is really about creating an opportunity for the community to feel seen, to be heard," Mejia said.

The group said the hospital has been discriminating against a certain class of patient by underserving them.

Ligia Guardado, an asylum seeker from Honduras, said she came to America for a better life.

Three years ago, she brought her newborn to the hospital twice within hours after showing health complications. She never expected her 45-day-old son would die in the care of the health center after having released him the first time.

Guardado believes the fact she was undocumented played a role in the quality of care and attention she received.

“I wouldn’t need a transplant right now… I wouldn’t need dialysis and my life would be probably a lot different,” said Katherinne Zavaleta-Alvarado, who came to the U.S. as an unaccompanied minor from El Salvador.

Unable to hold back tears, Zavaleta-Alvarado said she was misdiagnosed by a physician at the health center for 15 years. It wasn’t until she went to another clinic that she found out her kidneys are permanently scarred and was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis.

"It's just so frustrating and the fact that they don't want to take accountability makes it even worse," she said, saying she wants the center "to change, I want them to be better.”

In a statement, the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center rejected the claims by Centro Presente, saying the claims do not reflect the experiences of thousands of other patients, the majority of whom are immigrants. 

“We apologize for the challenging experiences that these individuals have had within our health system and applaud the courageous women who have spoken out for highlighting many of the challenges that are emblematic of persistent national health equity issues,” the statement said, noting that work continues to connect patients who've spoken out have access to support.

The organization urged anyone with concerns to contact its Office of the Patient Advocate.

"We remain proud of the excellent care we provide and our accomplishments outperforming major health systems across the state and nation in clinical quality measures. We continue to engage our community in dialogue and are committed to collaborating with fellow community advocates to advance progress surrounding health equity," the statement said.

They also said they have reached out to Centro Presente and have been involved with the Massachusetts Attorney General, undergoing five state and federal reviews that found no systemic discriminatory practices or lack of quality.

Centro Presente was involved in a 2022 request made to state regulators to review the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center's practices. A representative for the health center said in a statement the organization "proactively engaged, conducted and completed review of the cases" and that no evidence of systemic discrimination or quality concerns was uncovered.

The state found in June that the health care center was in compliance with standards required for participation in the Medicare program.

The attorney representing Centro Presente told NBC 10 Boston there’s at least a dozen similar cases of alleged negligence. However, no lawsuit has been filed as they are still discussing the matter with authorities.

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