Two city public hospitals have treated 12 young immigrant children who were separated from their parents at the border for physical and mental illnesses, Health and Hospitals CEO Mitchell Katz said Thursday.
The children were brought to the hospitals — four to Bellevue in Manhattan and eight to North Central Bronx Hospital — after being placed with foster parents by area social service organizations tasked with caring for the children, he said.
“There are undoubtedly many more, since our commitment is to serving people, not interrogating them about the circumstances that bring them to our facilities,” Katz said.
The children they have seen have presented with depression, anxiety, asthma, constipation and other ailments, city officials said. One was suicidal, Katz said, something he said did not surprise him given the circumstances.
“I don’t find that dramatic when I think about my own children, trying to imagine what it would have felt like to them to be separated from me forcibly,” he said.
Dr. Daran Kaufman, director of pediatric emergency services at North Central Bronx, said she and her clinicians have felt “helpless” in treating the children, who have generally arrived without medical records.
“Although we’ve been able to treat their medical diagnoses, they are sad, despondent, and we are unable to treat the emotional scars they are presenting with,” she said. “It’s very difficult for myself and my clinicians to be able to help them with these scars.”
Cayuga Centers in East Harlem is currently serving 239 children separated from their parents at the border due, according to the city, and is one of three providers who have federal contracts to do so in the city. The city was not notified by the federal government the children were being brought here from the border, though the organizations have for years served other immigrant children who cross the border alone.
The children appeared in hospitals over the last two weeks and it was only when their number mounted that they realized what was happening, Katz said. He said he was made aware of the situation two days ago.
The city does not currently have access to facilities of Cayuga Centers or other providers to offer on-site mental health services.
“The children that we’re seeing are being brought in by loving foster families who are struggling to take care of these children, who the families know themselves have been traumatized by the experience,” Katz said.
But the city is looking to gain access to children in temporary shelters, too.
“The city is reaching out to the main foster care providers hosting these children to discuss and expedite health services,” Deputy Mayor Herminia Palacio said. “We will work with providers to help them take care of these children.”
Many New Yorkers are wondering how they can help, Mayor de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, said.
“You can donate,” she said. “The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City will donate $10,000 to purchase affinity objects that can help children cope with trauma, items like teddy bears.”
McCray, the fund’s chairwoman, said donations can be made at nyc.gov/fund.
She also encouraged New Yorkers to call their elected officials to demand a permanent end to such separation.
“They need to hear from us, believe me these calls make a huge difference,” she said.
De Blasio, who traveled Thursday to the southern border, told NY1 the city would also set up ways to help through 311.
“We’re going to set up through 311 a system where if people want to offer any kind of support that would help these kids that they’ll have a way to do that,” he said, adding he hoped it would be up and running by Friday.