By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
A 21-year-old pregnant woman in her third trimester claims that she was denied antenatal care at a public clinic because she did not have a Haitian passport, according to a letter from her attorney obtained by The Tribune.
The young mother – who is expect to give birth to her fourth child this week – alleged that she was denied treatment on two separate occasions at the Fleming Street clinic, and did not receive care until she was personally assisted by the head nurse on her third attempt.
The incident echoes the concerns of human rights activists, who warned that the implementation of the government’s new immigration policy unfairly discriminated against the country’s large population of undocumented persons of Haitian descent.
The 21-year-old said she was born in the Bahamas to Haitian parents, her father is a permanent resident and her mother had a work permit. Her certificate of identity expired in 2007, but her mother did not renew it. She filed for a Bahamian passport on her 19th birthday, she said.
“They denied the certificate of identity travel document I had even though I used it at the same clinic when I had my three year old,” said the young mother, who asked The Tribune to withhold her identity.
“I feel very bad, all of this happening because of this new policy. This foolishness never used to happen – they could have just gotten my file from the hospital.”
She added: “I have proof to show that I was born here, when they go to check my files, the same document I presented is the same one I used at the clinic three years ago.”
Her attorney Fred Smith, QC, alleged that the mother was first denied antenatal care at the clinic on January 14, 2015 when she presented her identity card, but was told she needed a Haitian passport. She was also refused treatment in “early February” because she did not have a Haitian passport, Mr Smith’s letter said.
The mother went to the clinic again on March 23 because she was not feeling well, and was refused again. However, the head nurse agreed to personally assist the woman, then eight months pregnant, and as a result she was able to receive her first ultrasound scan.
Although she helped the pregnant woman, the head nurse allegedly explained that the mother was not entitled to receive care at the clinic without proper identification in the form of a Haitian passport, Mr Smith said.
The mother was again denied treatment on March 26, but eventually received care after staff checked for the head nurse’s signature on the card she provided to the mother.
Mr Smith of Callenders & Co, said the denial of access to antenatal services was
“illegal, irrational, discriminatory and unconstitutional” given that public health services were required by law to be made available to all.
In a letter to the clinic administrator, and Minister of Health Dr Perry Gomez, officials were asked to continue to provide care to the mother until a determination was made on her intended application for a judicial review of the clinic’s policy.
“The baby is due to be born on April 23, 2015,” the letter read.
“Clearly she (the mother) requires and is entitled to antenatal, natal, postnatal and pregnancy related care. Her new baby will also require services to which it will be entitled.”
It continued: “Whilst the intervention of the head nurse is currently allowing (the mother) to receive treatment, it appears that the illegal policy is still in place. This is not a satisfactory state of affairs and (the mother) clearly needs more security that her access to medical treatment will not be withdrawn at any moment on the pretext of this policy.”
Calls placed to Community Health Administrator Charlene Bain and Public Hospitals Authority Managing Director Herbert Brown were not returned up to press time.
Last November, the government introduced a stricter immigration policy that, among other things, requires every non-Bahamian to have a passport of their nationality.