I know from experience that our health care system depends on immigrants

My parents spent their final years in a retirement community in Westchester County. They largely enjoyed the place and the people with one caveat – what they called the Organ Recital dinner. They had nothing to do with Wurlitzer or Hammond, but were recitations of what was wrong with people’s internal organs. As in, “Ouch, my bladder is holding up.” Or “Did I mention my liver problems?”

I vowed never to fall victim to this trend as I got older. With the exception of last year, I’ve had a series of unfortunate health incidents. In January I had surgery for bladder stones which led to complications including pneumonia and a urinary tract infection. I suffered a compression fracture in my back in February. In March, I fainted and due to an existing heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, I had a defibrillator implanted in my chest. I then suffered esophagitis and a pulmonary embolism and underwent a procedure called a back kyphoplasty. All in all, I spent most of March, April and May in hospital and rehab.

But don’t feel sorry for me. I survived and even managed to return to playing my real musical instruments – piano and guitar.

The main organ still affected is the part of my brain that stores gratitude and rage. Gratitude for having Medicare and supplemental insurance from my previous job and for the wonderful people who cared for me—doctors, nurses, aides, technicians, custodians. Rage at those who continue to deny this care to tens of millions of Americans and those who demonize and try to prevent the vast majority of people who have kept me alive and relatively comfortable – immigrants.

More than 25 million Americans lack health insurance, a figure that the Congressional Budget Office expects will rise to 35 million by 2029. More than three million people are uninsured in 10 states because the party in power in those states refuses to expand Medicaid. despite little or no cost to states.

In the hospital and rehab, I had time to think about people who are not fortunate enough to have health insurance or qualify for Medicare. Will they get all the CT scans, MRIs, blood tests, procedures, medications, and round-the-clock care I’ve had? Even if they did get that care, would they be able to avoid medical bankruptcy? According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 100 million Americans have been pushed into massive debt by health care costs — including tens of millions who are insured but underinsured.

Most of the people who cared for me were immigrants, especially among the health care staff. In many states, a high percentage of health care workers—nursing assistants, personal care aides, and home health aides—are immigrants. That’s more than 50 percent in New York, more than 41 percent in California and more than 37 percent in Florida, according to the Migration Policy Institute. A significant percentage of the doctors, nurses and technical staff are immigrants. I received excellent care day and night in the hospital and rehab mostly from people from the Philippines and the Caribbean. Like previous generations of immigrants, they make significant contributions to this country as they seek a better life here. And like everyone else, they deserve the health care they give others.

So I have no more patience for those who continue to limit care to tens of millions and I have no more patience for those who demonize immigrants. We need them as much as they need us.

This guest essay reflects the views of Manhattan resident Peter Janowski, a former inner-city high school social studies teacher and commercial litigation and bankruptcy attorney.

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