Health Issues in East Boston

Health Disparities, Immigrant Rights, Racial Justice

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 

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 MontesExecutive 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. 

The formal request for an investigation is available here