Some 250 people who work at Boston Medical Center are protesting a scheduled visit Wednesday by first lady Melania Trump to a hospital program that helps babies who were exposed to drugs in the womb, according to opponents of Trump’s appearance.
Organizers of the protest say they are concerned that a photo opportunity highlighting BMC’s work with a vulnerable population could send the wrong message to patients — especially immigrants who are worried about the Trump administration’s enforcement
“If they thought that my affiliation was with somebody who promotes such division and promotes the hatred of immigrants, I’m sure that they’re not going to be asking to come to see me to take care of them,” said Cecilia T. Girard, a nurse midwife who is an immigrant from Ecuador.
Word of Trump’s visit has sparked days of intense discussion at BMC, turning an otherwise nonpartisan event into a controversy that highlights the deep divisions that have proliferated here and across the country since Donald Trump became president.
Organizers said they circulated a letter last week asking hospital administrators to consider canceling the visit. On Monday, about 75 people met with president and chief executive Kate Walsh, according to several people who attended.
Employees on Wednesday are planning a late-morning demonstration outside the hospital.
Walsh said Melania Trump’s visit will provide well-deserved recognition for an innovative and effective program.
In an e-mail sent Tuesday to BMC’s 6,000 employees, Walsh said she hopes “the visit will be a unique opportunity to share our values of respect and inclusion with federal leaders whose policies have a significant impact on the vulnerable populations we are dedicated to serving.”
“Two-thirds of our patients have some form of government insurance, and our health plan is the largest participant in the state’s Medicaid accountable care organization, so the opportunity to highlight the innovative work we are doing is critical to ensuring that we are able to continue to deliver on our mission well into the future,” she added.
Trump, who is expected to be accompanied by US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, is coming to Boston as part of her “Be Best” initiative, which focuses on problems including opioid addiction and bullying.
The White House said in a statement the visit would focus on the Cuddling Assists in Lowering Maternal and Infant Stress — or CALM — program, which uses volunteers to help comfort babies born with opioid dependency.
The White House said the first lady would receive a briefing on other programs aimed to assist pregnant women with substance use disorder and their babies.
Afterward, she is scheduled to tour the hospital’s pediatric care unit “to see firsthand how these programs are implemented and meet with the children and families who have been successfully treated,” the White House said.
In an e-mail, Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, didn’t comment on the concerns raised by some hospital employees. “Mrs. Trump looks forward to visiting Boston Medical Center tomorrow to meet with the center’s leadership and medical staff,” Grisham said.
Many who oppose her appearance work in obstetrics and related programs, but they also include family medicine physicians, social workers, and administrative employees. They say they are concerned that the event could obscure what they consider real harm inflicted on their patients by the administration.
As the largest safety-net hospital in New England, BMC treats an especially large number of low-income patients on Medicaid, as well as many immigrants.
Hospital employees said their patients are bearing the brunt of immigration crackdowns, and that some are so worried about deportation that they have missed appointments.
“This is not just some theoretical thing. This is actually happening to our patients,” said Thamarah Crevecoeur, a nurse midwife whose parents are from Haiti.
Girard, the nurse midwife, said Melania Trump should take action that would help change federal government policies that adversely affect BMC patients.
“What is it really that the first lady intends to do here besides being seen as a caring person that is holding a baby or two?” she said.
Erica Pike, a manager at Vital Village, a BMC-run community network focused on child, family, and community health, said she hopes to show patients that Trump’s visit is “a decision that was out of our control.”
“Our reaction and our actions that we’re taking this week are in solidarity with our patient populations and the communities in which we are working . . . to uplift and build on the health and well-being of children and families here in Boston,” she said.
Andy Rosen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.