KC agency helps refugees access culturally competent health services

By Tara Burkhart, social work program manager of Jewish Vocational Services

Nearly 60 million people were counted as forcibly displaced in 2014, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR). Currently, one person out of every 122 on the planet is said to be a refugee, internally displaced person or asylum seeker. If those people were the population of one country, it would be the 24th largest in the world.

Programs like the JVS Knitting Group provide a social outlet for refugee women and help build confidence and independence.JVS, the largest of three resettlement agencies in the Kansas City metro, resettles approximately 450 of these individuals every year.

Refugees are legally allowed to enter the U.S. for permanent resettlement after proving persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion in their country of origin. But financial assistance from the U.S. federal government ends after four months, requiring refugees to quickly become self-sufficient. These economic pressures, premigration trauma, and the challenge of resettlement often cause adjustment challenges for newcomers.

Overall, refugee and immigrant populations are underserved in provision of mental health, physical health, and domestic violence services, and are more likely to be underserved and uninsured than the general population. Data on immigrant/refugee health show increased diagnoses such as PTSD and major depression that are associated with pre-migration experiences of torture, starvation, and loss of family members.

Since 2011, the Health Care Foundation has supported the JVS Social Work Department's goal of providing holistic services to refugees who are in need of culturally competent mental health and domestic violence services.

One example of the program's impact is through the story of Ram and her family:

Ram is a refugee who fled ethnic persecution in Bhutan. Shortly after arriving to the US with her two adult sons, she began to suffer from anxiety, depression and a range of health issues. She became isolated and unable to care for her needs. Both of her sons had gone straight to work, but as Ram's health issues became worse, her youngest son quit his job to care for her. With only one son's limited income, the family turned to JVS.

Through funding from the Health Care Foundation, our knowledgeable and caring social workers helped Ram apply for health insurance, disability benefits, obtain eye glasses, and reconnect with primary care doctors. Ram began receiving therapy services through our Narrative Therapy project which helped her see her strengths and learn coping techniques. She was also connected with the JVS Knitting Group and Global Gardens Project which gave her a social outlet and helped her gain new-found courage and independence.

Her youngest son's life has changed as well. With his mother taken care of, he felt comfortable rejoining the workplace and is now contributing to his family's financial well-being and gaining important skills and experience for his own future.

With help from the Health Care Foundation and other generous grant funders, each year, we help hundreds of people just like Ram Rai and her family access services and remove barriers to their successful integration into our community.

This blog post is part of A Healthy 10.


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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.



About Bridget's Blog

Bridget McCandless

Bridget McCandless, MD, MBA, FACP, HCF President/CEO

Bridget McCandless is the President/CEO of the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and is a Board Certified Internal Medicine Specialist with an interest in chronic disease management and poverty medicine. She shares her thoughts and perspectives on health and policy issues that impact the health of the community as a whole.

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