Published April 10, 2014
Every year, 1,500 to 2,000 refugees and asylum-seekers come to Buffalo — one of the top refugee resettlement areas in the United States — driven by social and political upheaval, war, economic and agricultural distress, and poverty.
Before they leave their homelands, they are provided health assessments, vaccine updates and any necessary medical treatment. But when they get here, it’s a different story. They often face substantial and complex problems when they try to gain access to the physical and mental health services required by them and their families.
To explore these challenges and develop models for exemplary refugee health care systems, the University at Buffalo will sponsor Buffalo’s first collaborative Refugee Health Summit on April 24 at the UB Educational Opportunity Center, 555 Ellicott St., Buffalo.
Participation in the Refugee Health Summit, which will take place from 12:30-7:30 p.m., is by invitation only. If interested in attending, contact Jessica Scates at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The aim of the summit is to bring all interested parties together — health care providers, resettlement agencies, schools, community centers, health care professionals and refugees themselves — to help improve and develop health care services provided to refugees in Western New York.
The summit is sponsored by the UB Office of Global Health Initiatives (OGHI) in the School of Public Health and Health Professions, and the UB Office of Interprofessional Education.
It will feature major participation by Western New York’s four resettlement agencies: the International Institute of Buffalo, Catholic Charities of Buffalo, Jewish Family Service and Journey’s End Refugee Services, and by representatives of the refugee community itself.
Other participating community and agency partners include the Burmese Community Support Center, the Community Health Center of Buffalo, the Buffalo Public Schools, Neighborhood Health Center, Vive Inc., H.E.A.L. International, Jericho Road Community Health Center and the UB schools of Dental Medicine, Management, Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Nursing, Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Social Work.
The scheduled speakers are:
The director of the OGHI is Pavani Ram, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health, School of Public Health and Health Professions, a medical epidemiologist who has worked in more than a dozen countries from Bangladesh to South Sudan helping public health practitioners work more effectively in regions that often include vast numbers of refugees.
“Refugee families in Western New York come from nations on several continents or political regions, and often endure much difficulty and loss before they arrive here,” Ram says. “Nevertheless, many — if not most — are imbued with energy and hope. They enrich and diversify our regional culture; broaden our global perspective; introduce us to the art, music, literature, language and other aspects of the cultures they have carried with them; and build new enterprises that support themselves, as well as our shared community.
“Upon arrival,” she says, “refugees are supported by resettlement agencies, which process government documents, facilitate school enrollment, provide English language courses and link refugees to primary medical care providers.
“The agencies also offer interpretation and translation services,” she says, “help address any unresolved health problems and arrange ongoing primary medical care once refugees’ six-month initial Medicaid coverage has expired.”
Jessica Scates, coordinator of the OGHI, notes that as part of their orientation to Buffalo, refugees are educated about health care and health systems. “The challenge is to ready local health professionals to provide culturally engaged care to individuals from a variety of backgrounds,” she says. “Cultural education for local medical providers is especially important in addressing barriers to care, which can be complicated and difficult to resolve.”
Adds Denise Beehag, director of refugee and employment services for the International Institute of Buffalo (IIB), which has a mandate to assist the refugee population: “We are enthusiastic about the dialogue encouraged by past summits and, in particular, the involvement this year of the refugees themselves — both English speakers and those who require interpretation — in helping to identify the specific challenges they face when trying to access the health care system.”
May Shogan, director of international exchanges and education programs for IIB, describes one way in which this assistance currently is provided to different language and cultural groups.
“We coordinate Refugee Health Nights, evening clinics attended by members of a specific refugee group,” she says, “where they consult with UB medical residents and physicians, who examine and treat them with the assistance of a multicultural staff and translators proficient in the language or languages required.”
She adds that the IIB also develops information about the medical practices, beliefs and expectations of different cultural groups and distributes it to medical providers.