Centro Presente and Lawyers for Civil Rights File Request for AG and DPH to Investigate EBNHC

Last Wednesday Centro Presente and Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) sent a letter formally requesting 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).

In the request, Centro Presente and LCR said they have received several complaints and some EBNHC patients are arguing, “discriminatory medical treatment of immigrants, particularly women and patients on MassHealth insurance”.

The request includes detailed reports of what Centro Presente and LCR said amount to substandard care at EBNHC. The formal request for an investigation asks the two state agencies to determine if EBNHC is in compliance with civil rights and public health laws.   

In the filing Centro Presente and LCR report 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,” said Patricia Montes, Executive Director of Centro Presente. “The community has identified the problem and is now prepared to address it head on through legal action.”

Some of the allegations made by patients of EBNHC and highlighted in the formal request 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. 

“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 LCR. “That is why it is vital that this investigation be conducted jointly by the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Public Health.” 

EBHNC serves more than 120,000 patients each year, of which more than 70,000 identify as Latino. More than 65 percent of the Health Center’s office visits are with patients whose primary language is Spanish and EBNHC had more than 400,000 patient visits last year.

“East Boston Neighborhood Health Center exists specifically to serve East Boston and many surrounding communities, and our staff is largely made up of people who live and have families in our service areas,” said EBNHC in a statement. “We take this allegation very seriously. We have proactively reached out to the Attorney General’s Office to invite a review of any allegation. We also welcome the opportunity to hear from any of our patients regarding their experiences with our organization, which can be done through our website or by calling us directly. Every patient is a member of our extended family, and we will navigate this together with urgency and compassion.”

The Health Center added that as part of its strategic efforts to listen to patient voices EBNHC 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 levels of cultural awareness training for medical staff as well as new diversity training for medical providers.

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