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Expanding healthcare access to Chicago’s undocumented immigrants

By Alex V. Hernandez


Providence of God Catholic Church’s auditorium was standing room only on Monday. Over 500 residents, community and faith leaders as well as elected officials were gathered at the Pilsen church for the launch of the Healthy Illinois Campaign, a statewide campaign to secure healthcare coverage for Illinois’ immigrant community.

“The campaign’s whole purpose is to have everyone have access to health care,” said Carmen Velasquez. She’s an executive director with Alivio Medical Center and member of the campaign’s steering committee. “This is a social justice issue and we need to have everyone included for healthcare, including undocumented immigrants, but not only Latinos…everybody,” she said. “I’m 76 and I want healthcare for everyone before I die. I want immigration reform before I die.”

A few of the Healthy Illinois Campaign’s principles are that health care is a basic human right; that increased access to care, timely preventative services and better management of chronic illnesses promote improved health outcomes and reduce costs of late health interventions; and that less uninsured patients seen in hospitals and other medical providers will reduce uncompensated care costs and prevent health-related financial crises for individuals and families.

“I’m the grandson of a great Irish woman who came to this country without papers a little over a hundred years ago,” said Dr. Jay Shannon, CEO of the Cook County Health and Hospitals systems. “And for more than 150 years we’ve provided care to everyone who comes to us, regardless of immigration or employment status, regardless of their language…We’re not going to stray from that mission.”

Last year the county Cook County Health and Hospitals systems provided over $340 million in uncompensated care to patients who were admitted with no means to pay, said Dr. Shannon.

Roughly 511,000 undocumented immigrants live in the state of Illinois, mostly concentrated around the metro Chicago area, according a 2014 study by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

In Chicago, South Lawndale and Little Village are the community areas with the largest number of undocumented immigrants, about 20,000. However recent movements of immigrant communities have created…

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