Undocumented and uninsured: how medical challenges hit immigrant kids the hardest
Hi everyone! I want to share an experience I had taking a client to the emergency room several weeks ago. The client had been having medical issues for about a month that were not resolving. We had taken them to Urgent Care two times, each time with the same answer: “the patient needs to see a specialist.” Without insurance, the client had no ability to pay for a specialist, and as an unaccompanied minor, there was no steadfast adult in their life who could bring them to medical appointments. The unfortunate fact for many of our clients is that when they have health issues, they are too young to present themselves to medical facilities alone. This can lead to ongoing, unresolved problems like the one this client was experiencing.
After calling around to several organizations involved in the case, the responsibility fell to us at Project Libertad to bring the client to the hospital. When we arrived, we approached a window where we were asked to register. There was immediate confusion over who would pay the client’s medical bills, and since I was unrelated to the client, there were also questions about who I was and why I was bringing a minor unrelated to me to the hospital. Once we finally reached a non-present family member who was willing to provide their information over the phone, and once I presented work identification, they allowed us to enter the waiting room.
In the examination room, there were no medical professionals who spoke Spanish, so I became the de facto translator. A medical student came in to ask questions, followed by a nurse who took the client’s vitals. After plenty of waiting, a doctor spent less than five minutes examining the client and diagnosing their medical condition. After our trip to the emergency room, we picked up some medication at the pharmacy, where we spent another hour waiting and where we paid nearly $50 even with the pharmacy discount.
In contrast, later that week, I took my own son to the emergency room. We had insurance for him, and as his parents, we were the ones who brought him there. We presented our identification at the hospital and there was no question over who we were and who would pay his bills. The doctor spent a total of 15 minutes with us explaining his medical situation, and several different tests were ordered to rule out more serious complications. And I know that when the bill comes, our family will be able to afford it because he has medical insurance that adequately covers his care.
This story is not just about one client. It’s about the experience of being a young, newcomer immigrant in the United States without parents or supportive caregivers. Project Libertad exists to fill gaps for these young people fleeing violence or abuse in their home countries, who still have the same problems as every kid when they arrive in the United States, even if they don’t have caregivers equipped to fully support them. My official role may be Case Manager, but advocating for my client in the hospital that day felt a lot like donning several different hats simultaneously, which is what I do every day as a parent.