Many health workers worried about immigration status

The Menorah Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care in Brooklyn could soon be facing a labor shortage. That's because many in the pool of workers the Center normally hires from to be certified nurse assistants (or CNAs), worry about their immigration status.

"I have the groups that are coming in: 'Ms. Mary, how can you help me? How am I going to be able to stay here? I'm afraid I'm going to have to leave,'" said Mary Digangi, the Assistant Vice President of Human Resources at the Menorah system.

Digangi says about 25 nurse assistants there are at risk of deportation next year. Most are from Haiti, one of several countries from which thousands of individuals' temporary protected immigration status is set to expire in July 2019.

"Some of them are sitting down with attorneys, some of them are packing their bags, some of them are looking at what the flights are to go to other places," Digangi said.

And that could have a profound impact on patients both at facilities like Menorah, and those who get home health care.

They are jobs, Digangi says, that not many American-born workers want to fill, but that are crucial.

"They provide the assistance in all of your daily living, we're talking about showering, eatings, getting up and down from a chair," she said.

Louis Lizardos' mother, Katherine, is one of the patients at Menorah that could lose her regular healthcare aides because of the changing policy.

"To see her lose the continuity and the familiarity of these faces that are so loving to her and giving would be disturbing," Lizardos said.

It would also be a major blow to the health care system which is already facing a workforce shortage in the face of an aging population that's living longer, says Robert Espinoza, Vice President of Policy at the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute.

"The long-term care system would probably collapse without immigrants in this workforce," Espinoza said.

At Menorah, Digangi is already having trouble filling open nurse aide positions, and Espinoza says that could play out across the country as many immigrant workers weigh their options.

"Anecdotally, we're hearing from providers that workers who are immigrants are feeling increasingly afraid or scared on the job if they've lost their protective status they're afraid to stay on the job," he said.