5th Annual WNY Refugee Health Summit

UB - Community Connections to Improve Refugee Health and Wellbeing

5th annual WNY Refugee Health Summit.

5th annual WNY Refugee Health Summit

A Summary and Recommendations

Buffalo is among the top locations for refugee resettlement in the United States. Coming from countries such as Afghanistan, Burma, Iraq, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and Syria, refugees add to the diversity of Buffalo’s neighborhoods, schools, and businesses. Refugee and immigrant populations contribute to population growth, high rates of workforce participation, large tax contributions, and spending power.1 

Cultural, religious, educational, economic, language, and political barriers impede the development of culturally competent environments and the opportunity for refugees to lead successful, healthy lives in the U.S. To ensure population level health and wellbeing, the available clinical and social services, economic opportunities, educational programs, and social networks must reflect and support this growing diverse population. The annual Western New York (WNY) Refugee Health Summit unites clinicians, resettlement representatives, community health workers, researchers, students, municipal leaders, and refugees to highlight innovative university-community partnerships that have resulted in research, programming, and solutions to improve health and wellbeing for refugees.

The 5th annual WNY Refugee Health Summit highlighted university-community partnerships that seek to build culturally competent environments, improve clinic operations, improve mental health care, advocate for positive change in Medicaid, and support rising leaders.

Townhall Sessions

  • Building Culturally Competent Environments
    Erie County resettles the highest percentage of refugees across New York State; in 2016, 1,800 resettled in Buffalo and the surrounding communities. Refugees (and immigrants) bring a cultural richness to Buffalo and help to power the American economy. An accessible, culturally competent food environment, culturally sensitive, holistic health care and social services, and safe, affordable housing are vital to ensuring health and wellbeing for these diverse populations. However, refugees can endure overt and subtle degrees of discrimination. Numerous cultural, religious, educational, economic, language, social, and political barriers impede the development of culturally competent environments and the opportunity for refugees to lead successful, healthy lives in the U.S.
  • Improving Clinic Operations
    Clients with limited English proficiency (LEP) face a multitude of barriers to access and utilize health care services in the United States. LEP patients, especially those who receive care without the aid of an interpreter, may not understand health care procedures or diagnoses, and may not understand proper use, dosage, and intent of prescribed medications. These barriers can result in missed appointments, inappropriate use of medications, readmission into health care settings, and sometimes health complications that lead to increased disease or death. The stressors on the medical system result in inefficient operations – a cost to a system, but also a significant cost to patient health and wellbeing.
  • Improving Mental Health Care
    Many refugees sustain significant trauma and sometimes torture during their displacement. For some, trauma can result in both physical and mental health problems. To tend to both physical and mental health ailments, refugees seek care from both western-trained health care providers – often for physical ailments – and spiritual leaders – to attend to mental health concerns. Their spiritual leaders may prescribe cultural and religious therapies. Western-trained providers who do not take the time to understand the history and traditions embedded in culture and religion, as well as previous trauma and fear, cannot create the level of trust needed to ensure patients are receiving necessary treatment.
  • Advocating Positive Change: A Focus on Medicaid
    An Overseas Medical Examination is required for all refugees resettling in the U.S. External agencies share Overseas Medical Reports with health care providers in Buffalo that conduct Refugee Health Assessments (RHA) within 30 days of a refugee’s arrival. If a refugee has a significant medical condition, follow up is required. Most refugees rely on Medicaid (via a Medicaid card or a managed care plan) for their health care needs. However, the process of applying and using Medicaid can be complicated and impede access to care. 
  • Supporting Rising Leaders: A Look Toward the Future
    Refugees, especially children, are vulnerable to mental health issues stemming from trauma, torture, and adjustment to culture within the United States. Diverse, informed, and well-trained professionals are better able to appropriately care for these populations. Several local initiatives work to improve future care provider training so that future health care needs can be met.


The 5th annual WNY Refugee Health Summit Report was authored by Jessica Scates, administrative coordinator for the Community for Global Health Equity and Paige Iovine and Chelsea Recor, MPH/MD dual degree students at the University at Buffalo. Graphic design for the pdf report was done by Nicole Little, graduate assistant for the the Community for Global Health Equity and dual degree graduate student in Architecture and Planning at the University at Buffalo.

The annual WNY Refugee Health Summit is co-sponsored by the University at Buffalo’s Community of Excellence in Global Health Equity and School of Public Health and Health Professions’ Office of Global Health Initiatives.

Special thanks to the presenters and panelists of the 5th annual WNY Refugee Health Summit. Their work is helping to ensure health and wellbeing for Buffalo’s New Americans.