The Libertas Center for Human Rights was founded as a volunteer program of the Emergency Department (ED) in 2006 by ED physicians, Dr. Lars Beattie and Dr. Rajeev Bais, to provide services to survivors of torture through Elmhurst Hospital’s Emergency Department, with a primary focus on conducting forensic evaluations and providing affidavits in support of client’s asylum applications.
With grant funding, in March 2010, the Libertas Center opened dedicated space for its community healing center at Elmhurst Hospital to provide comprehensive medical, mental health, social and legal services for torture survivors. Together with Medical Directors Dinali Fernando and Braden Hexom, Program Director Leah Weinzimer helped develop relationships within Elmhurst hospital and throughout the community to build the Libertas Center’s structure, philosophy and suite of services that today comprise the central pillars of the program.
The Libertas Center has been honored to receive recognitions for service from the New York City Council, the Brooklyn Borough President and Congressman Joseph Crowley, as well as from leading community partners such as Houses on the Moon.
The Libertas Center is an active member of the National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs.
New York City is home to a disproportionate number of torture survivors. At 5,028 cases, New York City received by far the most applications for protection under the Convention against Torture of any immigration court in 2014. That same year, NYC had 8,811 asylum case completions and 4,830 applicants were granted asylum, representing 55% of the total asylum grants in the US that year.
The location of the Libertas Center in Elmhurst, Queens, New York City uniquely positions us to identify and serve a large number of torture survivors. The area immediately surrounding Elmhurst Hospital, where the Libertas Center is located, is the most diverse zip code in NYC and arguably the country, with 71% of its residents being foreign born. The surrounding neighborhoods of Flushing, Corona and Jackson Heights have the next highest percentages of foreign-born residents in NYC, between 62-68%. 4 The origins of foreign-born residents in Queens include China (13%), Colombia (4.7%), Bangladesh (4.3%) and Jamaica (3.7%), showing the remarkable and continuing degree of immigration to the immediate community.
As the largest public hospital in the borough of Queens, Elmhurst Hospital (EHC) is the primary source of emergent and primary medical and mental health care in Queens. EHC is the major public teaching hospital affiliated with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS), with a broad spectrum of medical, surgical and subspecialty residency programs. It is an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) 911 receiving hospital, cardiac catheterization and stroke center, and Level 1 trauma center, with 575 hospital beds. In 2014, its Emergency Department (ED) cared for 148,406 patients (91,543 adult, 49,330 pediatric, 7533 psychiatric), with the EDs responsible for 77% of hospital admissions.
A 2009 cross sectional prevalence study of 470 patients conducted by the Libertas Center suggested that over 6% of patients seeking care at Elmhurst Hospital’s Adult Emergency Department met criteria as torture survivors, translating to several thousand torture survivors potentially presenting to our hospital Emergency Department every year. These numbers, along with the increase in survivors seeking services from our program since 2009, together with our growing waiting list, demonstrate the ongoing demand for Libertas Center services. Since opening our doors, the Libertas Center has provided services to over 350 survivors of torture.