Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas Helps Refugees Navigate America’s Complicated Health Care System

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Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas was a recipient of a one-year Applicant Defined Grant (ADG) from Health Care Foundation. Their Refugee and Migrant Service program was awarded $25,000 in July 2011. Guest blogger Kirsten Flanagan, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas Director of Institutional Funding, gave us an update on the program’s progress.

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Imagine: the Burmese military enters your village to eliminate members of your ethnic group. Terrified, you flee leaving behind possessions, livelihoods and dreams for the future. You cross into neighboring Thailand and are placed in a refugee camp where you seek a sense of normalcy. You struggle watching your children’s development stagnate as a result of malnutrition and diseases, and you wait anxiously to hear on your petition for refugee status and resettlement in the United States of America.

Your family has endured 10 years in the refugee camp when you receive notification that your request for refugee status has been granted. You dream of the opportunities awaiting you—schools for your children, prenatal care for your wife, and economic independence. What you find when you arrive, though, is bewildering—confusing immunizations required before school admittance, interpretation issues complicating prenatal care and newly diagnosed diabetes that may slow you in obtaining employment.

Since 1975, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas has been resettling refugee families like this. During this time, we developed expertise in providing long-term care to support full integration. The agency helps 650 refugees per year navigate issues from housing, employment, education and social/emotional issues. The program recently received a ground-breaking $25,000 grant from the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City to help facilitate refugees’ health integration. The additional assistance provided is hastening children’s entrances into school and the family’s ability to gain employment while easing access to a daunting medical system for those who greatly need medical care.

Grant funds have allowed the program to hire a part-time Health Care Coordinator charged with coordinating on-going care/intervention for refugees, underscoring the importance of preventative care and serving as a liaison with integral health care providers. Grant funds also offset costs with the provision of intensive health training workshops. These workshops empower refugees with health care practices, information on Medicaid services, and direction on how to navigate the health care landscape.

Results have been tremendously positive: improved collaboration with providers, deepened understanding of the providers’ obligation to provide interpretation, and decreased burden on the health care system. Attendance at workshops has increased as the program offers more workshops targeting specific health concerns. With the knowledge gained at workshops, usage of Medicaid taxis and over-the-counter medicines for common ailments has increased.

The impact on refugees has been remarkable in improving access to and understanding of proper sources of care. A refugee from the family described above went to the emergency room repeatedly when symptoms of a medical diagnosis exacerbated, rather than contacting their family doctor. The Health Care Coordinator was able to meet individually with the refugee in their home, patiently explaining proper usage of the emergency room, urgent care and family doctors. The Health Care Coordinator made follow-up appointments at the University of Kansas Medical Center to assure appointments were made in appropriate departments. The Coordinator also reviewed medications dosage and the refugee is now in treatment with their family physician.

The agency remains most grateful to the Health Care Foundation for their generosity. The Health Care Coordination grant is making a true impact on the health and wellness of some of the most vulnerable, indigent members of our community.


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HCF's Local Health Buzz Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact HCF Communications Officers, Jennifer Sykes, at jsykes@hcfgkc.org.

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