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Coalinga State Hospital Patients Without Legal Status Ask To Be Deported Amid Unsafe Conditions

In the last two weeks, 48 people at the Coalinga State Hospital have contracted Covid-19, according to the Department of State Hospitals. Some patients without legal documentation are asking the state to allow ICE to deport them because they don’t want to get the virus.

Andrew Warren, 52, a Vietnamese citizen and resident at the civil confinement facility, says he’s afraid he’ll die at the state hospital due to unsafe practices among the staff that put him at a higher risk of contracting the virus.

“They have staff that work in other infected units come in here, then they go into your rooms and start touching things and so they’re passing it around,” Warren says.

It’s why he wants to be deported to his home country of Vietnam. But according to his lawyer Martin Zaringer, the state won’t allow it.  A California sexually violent predator law requires Waren to get treatment for his mental illness.

“And it’s the state essentially saying no we’re not releasing him because he’s not ready to be released into the community,” Zaringer says.

Joel Sanchez, 48, is a citizen of Mexico. He’s one of 56 patients with no legal status, according to a hospital spokesperson. Sanchez has spent the last three years at the state hospital and says he also wants to be deported in part for safety reasons. Since the pandemic started, Sanchez says he’s also seen staff floating from quarantined to non-quarantined units and he doesn’t think they are very cautious.

“They’re not even wearing gloves when they give us an item,” Sanchez says referring to medication or things like shampoo.

In response to comments from Waren and Sanchez, a hospital spokesperson emailed a statement to KVPR saying, “Coalinga State Hospital makes every effort to not have staff who work on quarantine units work on non-quarantine units. Staff working on an isolation unit, where COVID+ patients are treated, are not permitted to work in any other area of the hospital.” 

Sanchez says he’s also not getting adequate treatment for his mental illness because of the pandemic. In the last 10 months, he says he’s only had five 45-minute group therapy sessions.  

Before the pandemic, Sanchez says it was still difficult to get treatment because the hospital only has one Spanish treatment facilitator and the resident groups are restricted to seven people per session.

“And my English is okay, but not at that level to get my treatment in that language,” he says.

Madi Bolanos covered immigration and underserved communities for KVPR from 2020-2022. Before joining the station, she interned for POLITCO in Washington D.C. where she reported on US trade and agriculture as well as indigenous women’s issues during the Canadian election. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in anthropology from San Francisco State University. Madi spent a semester studying at the Danish Media and Journalism School where she covered EU policies in Brussels and alleged police brutality at the Croatian-Serbian border.
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