In response to a press conference announcing legal action by Centro Presente, the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center released this public statement.
“At East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, we take great pride in our deep and rich history serving the immigrant community. EBNHC had over 400,000 patient visits last year. More than 70,000 of our patients identify as Latinx, and more than 65% of our office visits are with patients whose primary language is Spanish. Accordingly, language access has been a longstanding priority of EBNHC. Our Interpreter Services Department conducted more than 190,000 interpretations last year, and can provide interpreter services in nine different languages using its in-house interpreters alone. This is a service for which EBNHC is not reimbursed. Like many large area providers, there is a formal system for handling patient complaints, and there are multiple avenues through which EBNHC proactively solicits patient feedback, including in languages other than English. We also believe that people of our community are better able to serve our community; over 50% of our staff is from our service area, and 48% of our staff is Latinx. As part of our strategic efforts to listen to our patient voices, we will be launching a Patient Advocate Office, a process that was started more than six months ago. Additionally, EBNHC has proactively made numerous investments in cultural competency, including offering advanced levers of cultural awareness training for medical staff as well as new diversity trainings for medical providers.
After learning of Centro Presente’s allegation outlined in a press release and the concerns shared by several families through media reports, EBNHC requested a meeting with Centro Presente and with the identified patients to learn more about their experiences with EBNHC and discuss their concerns, but none have agreed to meet with us. We welcome dialogue with any of our patients regarding their experiences with our organization. We have also proactively reached out to the Attorney General’s Office to invite a review of any allegation.”
Press release from Lawyers for Civil Rights and Centro Presente
Civil Rights and Immigrants’ Rights Advocates Urge State Officials To Investigate Discriminatory, Substandard Medical Treatment By East Boston Neighborhood Health Center
MA Attorney General and Department of Public Health Asked To Investigate Harrowing Patient Reports Of Misdiagnosis, Delayed Care
Boston – (March 15, 2022), Centro Presente and Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) formally requested that the Massachusetts Attorney General and the Department of Public Health jointly investigate the medical care provided by the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC), based on complaints of discriminatory medical treatment of immigrants, particularly women and patients on MassHealth insurance. The request includes detailed reports of substandard care at EBNHC and calls for State officials to immediately open an investigation into EBNHC’s compliance with civil rights and public health laws.
In today’s filing, Centro Presente and LCR highlight numerous incidents in which immigrant patients of EBNHC have complained of substandard care — including failure to perform tests or lab work and misdiagnosis — that has resulted in worsened medical conditions, prolonged hospital stays, late diagnoses of cancer, and even death. Citing evidence that this substandard care falls particularly harshly on immigrants, women, and those on MassHealth, the request urges that a State investigation be opened immediately and deliberately and intentionally conducted through the lens of civil rights laws.
“Patients and their families have repeatedly reported substandard, discriminatory treatment at EBNHC, resulting in misdiagnosis, worsened health conditions, and even death. The community has identified the problem and is now prepared to address it head on through legal action,” said Patricia Montes, Executive Director of Centro Presente.
“State law forbids healthcare providers from discriminating on the basis of race, national origin, sex, or MassHealth insurance status,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights. “That is why it is vital that this investigation be conducted jointly by the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Public Health.”
EBNHC is the largest community health center in Massachusetts and one of the largest in the nation. The health clinic is the main access point for healthcare services for many individuals within Boston’s immigrant communities. Today’s investigation request notes that because EBNHC is a primary healthcare servicer to Boston’s immigrant communities, any medical mistreatment at EBNHC furthers the racial and ethnic disparities that persist in the Commonwealth. Some of the allegations made by patients of EBNHC include:
A Honduran immigrant woman on MassHealth, brought her infant child to EBNHC for medical care, only to be sent home. The following day, her baby’s condition worsened, and she brought him back to EBNHC. This time, staff called for an ambulance to rush him to a hospital, but it was too late. Tragically, the baby died en route to the emergency room. A Salvadoran immigrant woman took her two-year-old son to EBNHC because she found a bump on his penis. The nurse examined the child, and they were sent home. Approximately a week later, the child’s condition worsened. The mother brought him to the emergency room at Boston Medical Center where doctors explained to her that the infection her child had was advanced and should have been diagnosed and treated much earlier. A woman of Salvadoran descent on MassHealth, went to EBNHC because she had chest pain, fatigue, and heart palpitations. An EKG was run, and a doctor deemed the results to be normal. The doctor told the patient that she had an irritation in her lungs and prescribed ibuprofen. The patient’s symptoms worsened, so she sought treatment elsewhere, where she was diagnosed with stage three lung cancer.
In November 2020, the Attorney General’s Office commissioned a healthcare disparity study to assess the demographics and circumstances surrounding healthcare outcomes throughout the Commonwealth. The study found that residents of color are less healthy and die younger than white residents. The study found that while gaps between white populations and communities of color have been narrowed, there are still significant racial disparities in health outcomes in communities across the state.