A recent influx of refugees to the Elm City has necessitated additional medical resources to accommodate the new arrivals.
The pilot event “Physical and Mental Health of Refugees: A Primer for Healthcare Providers” aimed to educate students and practicing professionals on the challenges and logistics of health care for refugees on Thursday evening. The program, which attracted over 80 students and practicing professionals to the medical school, featured seven speakers, who walked attendees through each step of the health care process for refugees who enter the United States. The event will serve as the first of many training sessions for regional health care providers on the topic of refugee health. This pilot conference seeks to enable and encourage local providers to accept refugees in the area as patients, Director of the Yale Adult Refugee Clinic Ani Annamalai said.
“We are using this event both as an educational tool and also to encourage and recruit more providers into our refugee care,” Annamalai said.
The program, co-sponsored by the medical school’s Department of Internal Medicine, Office of Global Health and Office of International Medical Student Education, sought to describe the political context of refugee resettlement and evaluate the health needs of newly arrived refugees. Other learning objectives of the program included helping clinicians recognize special considerations in providing health care for refugees and to identifying resources for refugee services in the New Haven area.
Annamalai said language barriers and differing cultural expectations can be a challenge in administering health care to refugees.
The recent global migrant crisis has spurred an increase in the number of refugees arriving in the United States, Annamalai said. In November of last year, after a series of linked terrorist attacks occurred in Paris, a number of state governors — including those of Texas, Georgia and Michigan — began refusing the entry of Syrian refugees to their states.
After Indiana Gov. Mike Pence ordered a ban on Syrian refugees to his state last November, a Syrian family originally headed to Indiana instead resettled in New Haven, garnering national attention. That month, Gov. Dannel Malloy maintained that the state would continue to accept refugees from Syria.
The New Haven-based Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, one of the state’s several contracted refugee resettlement agencies, helped 240 refugees make Connecticut their home this past fiscal year. The refugees arrived mainly from Middle Eastern countries, primarily Iraq, although Syrian refugees have recently begun making up a larger percentage of IRIS clients, Annamalai said. Refugees from sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia also comprise a significant portion of clients IRIS takes on.
The agency has requested that the U.S. State Department double the number of refugees placed through IRIS this year, said Leslie Koons, IRIS health and wellness programming coordinator. Accordingly, IRIS anticipates resettling 490 refugees this year, she added.
In taking on the task of accommodating these refugees, IRIS has begun preparing on all fronts, from housing to employment to health care, Koons said.
The agency currently partners with the medical school and the Yale-New Haven Health System to provide refugees with health care. Two clinics in the YNHHS currently serve refugees, but speakers and organizers of Thursday’s program highlighted the need to expand accessible clinics across the region.
Refugees qualify for Medicaid immediately upon arrival to the U.S., according to Alison Stratton, the Connecticut Department of Public Health’s state refugee and immigrant health program coordinator. Likewise, the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement provides some funds to agencies to accommodate translation costs, while federally funded health care providers are required to provide free interpreters for patients under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
Stratton acknowledged that smaller providers could find such provisioning difficult, but stressed that those involved in the care process, from providers to refugee case managers, ensure adequate care for refugees through sharp problem-solving skills.
“People are always creative in getting done what they need to get done,” Stratton said.
The United States admitted fewer than 2,000 Syrian refugees last year.