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Immigration meets health-care policy, and my brother Jim, in the ICU

My brother has crashed into two great questions facing America today.

I’m writing this from the intensive care unit of a public hospital near San Diego, where brother Jim is slowly recovering from a car crash that damaged internal organs and left him in a coma for a week.

The first question his crash raised is: Where will America find its future medical staff? In San Diego, the answer includes a whole lot of folks who speak English as a second or third language.

The head critical-care doctor and nurse are from Nepal and Vietnam. The chief hospitalist is from India. Nurses are from India, the Philippines, Laos, Uganda, Mexico — throughout Asia and Latin America. His kidney doctor is named Mohammed, and he’s got enough trouble in today’s America without my probing his origins, but praise Allah that he is here.

It is obvious our health care system is better off, indeed required, to welcome a lot of recent immigrants to care for us.

It is equally obvious that Idaho’s food-processing and dairy industries would collapse without workers whose first language is Spanish.

Jim’s caregivers are likely here legally, but many farm workers are not. Why not legalize both those who help feed us as well as those with higher skills who care for our health?

The second question is: How will Jim’s care be paid for?

He was saved by wonderful technology and human skill, but his bill will have three more digits in it than he could possibly afford, as he lives primarily on Social Security.

His costs will be shifted to other hospital patients, the state and the federal government. We don’t like to hear this, but would any of us want less than the care he received?

We somehow imagine the day-to-day medical expenses of poor people are breaking the American medical bank account. It is oldsters Jim’s age and mine who cost a great deal more.

Here in the ICU, things are humming along with compassion and good cheer. Jim is moving toward rehab. But in the outside world, when it comes to considering immigration and health care, misunderstanding, magical thinking and sheer meanness are running rampant.

Frankly, my dear, I’d rather stay here.

Jerry Brady is a member of Compassionate Boise, which encourages compassion in all aspects of life.