To determine whether Latino undocumented immigrants had a steeper decline in Emergency Department (ED) utilization compared to Latino Medi-Cal patients in a Los Angeles safety-net hospital, March 13, 2020, to May 8, 2020.
The data were extracted from patient medical records for ED visits at LAC + USC Medical Center from January 2018 to September 2020. We analyzed weekly ED encounters among undocumented Latino patients in the nine-week period after COVID was declared a national emergency. We applied time-series routines to identify and remove autocorrelation in ED encounters before examining its relation with the COVID-19 pandemic. We included Latino patients 18 years of age and older who were either on restricted or full-scope Medi-Cal (n = 230,195).
All low-income Latino patients, regardless of immigration status, experienced a significant decline in ED utilization during the first nine weeks of the pandemic. Undocumented patients, however, experienced an even steeper decline. ED visits for this group fall below expected levels between March 13, 2020, and May 8, 2020 (coef. = - 38.67; 95% CI = - 71.71, - 5.63). When applied to the weekly mean of ED visits, this translates to a 10% reduction below expected levels in ED visits during this time period.
Undocumented immigrants' health care utilization was influenced by external events that occurred early in the pandemic, such as strict stay-at-home orders and the public charge rule change. Health care institutions and local policy efforts could work to ensure that hospitals are safer spaces for undocumented immigrants to receive care without immigration concerns.