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NC Department of Health and Human Services
 
 

The public’s health is at risk when undocumented people are denied health services

Op-Ed by Dr. Leah Devlin, State Health Director

Release Date: August 4, 2008
Contact: Carol Schriber, 919-733-9190

The public's health stands at risk whenever critical public health services are not universally and widely available to protect the entire community.

The recent events in Alamance County, where health department medical staff were put on administrative leave and health department medical records were searched (albeit under the required court order) in an attempt to identify undocumented persons being served, undermines the ability of the local health department to protect the community from serious health problems.

Essential public health services protect us all from communicable diseases, vaccine-preventable illnesses, unwanted pregnancies and infant deaths, just to name a few. Public health interventions over the past 100 years have all but eliminated some of our most dreaded diseases, such as polio and smallpox. The health of the community can only be protected if every person, regardless of his or her legal status, receives the necessary health interventions.

Suppose the individual who triggered this investigation into the local public health system had tuberculosis, a life-threatening infection that, without the proper public health services, can easily be transmitted person-to-person. In that scenario, many people could have unknowingly been exposed because the infected person, living here illegally, couldn't get the appropriate public health services.

What about the risks to all the children in our community when undocumented mothers are afraid of being deported if they attempt to have their children immunized against communicable diseases? Lack of immunizations puts the whole community at higher risk of illness.

And of course we all pay for poor birth outcomes when mothers illegally living here fail to get necessary prenatal care because they are afraid.

Access to and confidence in the public health system that protects everyone, is separate and unrelated issue from the legal concerns related to undocumented persons. The federal government understands this — it is illegal to accept federal funds and deny essential public health services to anyone, including undocumented persons. It is absolutely critical that local and state governments likewise continue to assure — as they always have — that no barriers are raised to accessing essential public health services that protect health for all the people in our communities.

 

 

 

Updated: September 18, 2008