Medical mistrust in East Boston

Welcome to the first edition of Globe Opinion’s ¡Mira!, The Boston Globe’s first newsletter that will be written in both English and Spanish.

I am thrilled to share with you my offbeat perspective on politics, policy, people, and even pets! Every Friday morning, you’ll get in your inbox a mix of my takes on Boston’s under-the-radar news, national or international stories, interviews, social media tidbits, and recommendations. I promise to always bring the sensibility of an Hispanic immigrant, a proud Bostonian and Mexican American — and a TikTok “dogfluencer.”

There will also be a lot of room for give-and-take with readers, and I look forward to your feedback and suggestions.

This week, the issue of medical mistrust among communities of color has been on my mind for several reasons. Last summer, I wrote about a complaint that was filed by immigrant and legal advocacy groups against the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, a community health clinic in East Boston, which has the highest share of Latino residents in the city at 50.4 percent. The complaint alleged discrimination and deficient quality of care for immigrants and communities of color, particularly Hispanic patients.

Back then, I told the story of Katherinne Zabaleta-Alvarado, who said she was misdiagnosed by a doctor at the clinic. She is now receiving dialysis treatment, according to Patricia Montes, the executive director of Centro Presente, one of the groups advocating for change at the East Boston health center.

The clinic has rejected the claims and said they don’t reflect the experiences of tens of thousands of patients. But Montes said she has continued to receive complaints from Latino patients of the clinic. “We have four new cases of patients alleging discrimination,” Montes told me this week. “That’s a reflection of the fact that our complaints are based in reality.”

Last month, Boston City Councilor Julia Mejia joined Centro Presente advocates in a rally outside the clinic. “This is really about creating an opportunity for the community to feel seen, to be heard,” Mejia told a local TV station.

A rally outside the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center last month. Photo courtesy of Centro Presente.Marcela García

Here’s why the East Boston story is important: The costs of disparities and inequities in the health care system are significant. A research study commissioned by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation and the Health Equity Compact, released Tuesday, found that “the economic burden due to health inequities experienced by Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian populations in Massachusetts totals $5.9 billion per year ,” wrote the authors of the report. That’s a staggering impact that ought to be addressed by policy makers.

And speaking of health equity reform, the Globe’s first-ever Health Equity Week kicks off June 19. In the headliner event, I’ll be interviewing Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, the executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, in a virtual webinar on June 20. The topic? How to fight medical mistrust in health institutions. I hope you can join us.

Marcela García is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @marcela_elisa and on Instagram @marcela_elisa.

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