Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Closure of Atlanta's charity dialysis clinic leaves some with

As an Atlanta resident, I've been hearing about the closure of our public hospital's dialysis clinics for months on the news. As we approach the deadline for services, however, the situation has been making national news. Grady's outpatient dialysis center has run at a large financial loss to the city for years and primarily serves illegal immigrants with no healthcare alternatives. To ease transition for existing patients, Grady has been paying relocation fees (back to Mexico) as well as offering services through a private contractor to bridge the gap. The primary criticism of this is that these patients will not be able to receive similar care in Mexico, and some have already had to cut back on treatments due to cost, a poor decision in more advanced cases of kidney disease.

This situation is described in a three-part series from the New York Times, The Breaking Point:
Part 1: Hospital Falters as Refuge for Illegal Immigrants
Part 2: For Sick Illegal Immigrants, No Relief Back Home
Part 3: Reprieve Eases Medical Crisis for Illegal Immigrants

I'll admit this is a difficult situation for the city. Atlanta's budget is a complete mess, and we're not even adequately taking care of our own citizens. But I find it difficult for the city to absolve itself of all responsibility for these men and women. Perhaps it is legally justified to ship these people away to die, but it can hardly be a moral decision. We are able to provide them life-saving treatment (after all, we've done it for years), but we are choosing not to.

Monica Chavarria's story, in the second installment, particularly struck me. Monica, an illegal immigrant, has an eight-year-old son, Eduardo, who is an American citizen, whom she has brought back with her to Mexico. To be realistic, things are not looking very good for the Chavarria family, and Monica has decreased the frequency of her dialysis treatments. Even if we accept that the US government has no responsibility to Monica (which I don't, but let's suppose), isn't there still some obligation to offer Eduardo support? Do Americans have a reasonable expectation that the government will support their mothers, at the very least while they are still minors? That would seem to be the essence of real "family values." The Chavarrias may not be US citizens, but they are members of the Atlanta community.

It is time for our nation to have real conversations about healthcare and immigration policy, both as separate issues and of their intesections.

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