Alan D. Aviles, President
New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation
To announce Immigrant Confidentiality Campaign
Tuesday, May 30th, 2006; 10:30 a.m.
Elmhurst Hospital Center
Good morning. I'm Alan Aviles, President of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation - the city's
public hospital system.
Over the last few months, there has been much debate in Washington over proposed changes in our federal
immigration laws and the bolstering of our nation's border security. The Senate and the House have now both passed
different bills and it remains unclear what final legislation may be enacted.
We have all witnessed how the contentious immigration reform debate literally moved thousands of immigrants from
their homes and jobs to the streets in Cities across the nation, including here in New York. These large
demonstrations reflect the deep concern among many immigrants over the uncertainty of their fate as the country
continues to wrestle with changes to current immigration laws and immigration-related policies.
This continuing uncertainty has fueled the fears that many undocumented immigrants have about being reported and
Immigrant advocacy groups have conveyed disturbing stories about the lengths to which some recent immigrants have
gone in order to avoid accessing health services because they fear having their immigration status reported to
We have heard about the construction worker who broke his foot and instead of visiting the emergency room
consulted with a friend of a friend -- a so-called "expert" in mending broken bones.
We also heard about the young Mexican mother of three who arrived in this country eight months ago and had been
afraid to seek treatment for the cervical cancer with which she was diagnosed long ago.
And we have heard from some of our own physicians that patients have suddenly asked whether it is possible to
access their services in a private office away from the hospital, confiding that they are undocumented and that they
fear continuing to come to a public institution.
These reports raise fundamental concerns for us in the public hospital system; concerns that some undocumented
immigrants who lack understanding about our mission and strict confidentiality policies will avoid seeking needed
healthcare services out of fear of having their immigration status disclosed. That is a threat to the health of our
immigrant communities and to the broader public health.
That's why the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation will begin a public awareness campaign to help
dispel this fear. We want to send this strong and reassuring message to undocumented immigrant New Yorkers: Do
not fear going to our doctors, our clinics or our emergency rooms. Public hospital employees will honor your right
to privacy and keep confidential all patient information, including your immigration status.
* * * * * *
I'm joined today by Commissioner Guillermo Linares, of the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs; Adam Gurvitch,
Director of Health Advocacy for the New York Immigration Coalition; Juanita Lara, Health Access Coordinator for the
Latin Americans United for Progress; and Jinny Park, Program Director of the Korean Community Services.
Commissioner Linares, Mr. Gurvitch and all the other advocacy leaders will play an important part in delivering
our message. In a minute you'll hear from them about their first hand experiences with the present fear in the
immigrant community and some recent disturbing stories about individuals too fearful to seek needed medical
* * * * * *
You all know that trust is the foundation of the doctor-patient relationship. For more than a century, our public
hospitals have been successful in serving the new immigrant communities of this city because our healthcare
providers have worked hard to earn that trust. Our strict patient confidentiality policies are the bedrock upon
which that trust has been built.
To ensure that all of our immigrant patients are fully aware of this promise of confidentiality, Commissioner
Linares and I have authored an open letter to the immigrant communities of the city.
The message is simple. We want immigrant families to know that our number one commitment is to their health. It
is safe for undocumented immigrants to obtain needed healthcare at any of our hospitals or community-based clinics.
We will not disclose any patient information, including information about a patient's immigration status, to federal
authorities or law enforcement officials.
Our open letter will be available in nine languages and will be widely distributed to HHC employees, our
patients, and our partner community organizations across the city. We'll be asking community groups to mail this
letter to members, post it on their websites, give it to their clients, and incorporate it into their citizenship
and English as a Second Language classes and other programs attended by immigrant New Yorkers. We hope that places
of worship serving immigrant congregations will read it during services. We will ask print media organizations to
publish it - as many times as they would like - and in any of the languages available. And we will ask radio and
cable TV outlets to read it on the air, post it on their websites, and mention it in community affairs programs.
I'm pleased to announce that a number of media organizations have already committed to publishing the open letter
as a public service to their readers.
I want to thank El Diario-La Prensa, La Voz Hispana, Norwood News, Bronx Times Reporter and Greenline -The North
Brooklyn Community News. I thank all of these media organizations for agreeing to support this effort and for their
commitment to the communities they represent.
I'm hopeful that many more ethnic and community newspapers, as well as some mainstream media organizations, will
also support this campaign.
* * * * *
I'm proud of HHC's long history of caring for everyone regardless of ability to pay or immigration status. I'm
also proud of our staff who live up to this commitment every day and who make our patients feel welcome and
protected as they provide care. Their role is critical in helping to deliver this message of reassurance to
immigrant New Yorkers who seek our help.
To ensure that everyone who works at HHC can fully support this campaign, last week I sent a letter to our 39,000
staff members reinforcing both this message and HHC's long-standing confidentiality policy.
Following this press conference, and over the next few weeks, HHC staff will be invited to participate in small
group sessions and larger town hall meetings to discuss these issues in more detail.
Commissioner Linares and the Immigration Coalition have graciously agreed to join me at some of my meetings with
front line staff to discuss how we can reach out effectively to immigrant New Yorkers and answer questions about
HHC's policies regarding the protection of privacy for all our patients.
HHC's commitment to making affordable, quality health care accessible to all regardless of immigration status or
ability to pay is much more than a promise. It is our mission.
Treating patient information as private and confidential is critical to that mission and to the city's public
All the work we have done to improve the health of our communities -- getting more children vaccinated,
increasing early prenatal care, reducing teen pregnancy, managing diabetes and reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS -
could potentially come undone if fear keeps large numbers of children and adults away from our health care
So while our representatives in Washington continue to debate immigration reform - we say to all of the diverse
new immigrant communities: New York City public hospitals will continue to offer comprehensive, affordable and
entirely confidential healthcare to all New Yorkers.