Primary care for the community

CCF helping refugees navigate the U.S. health care system and connect with doctors

By M. Lapham

Concerns about what will happen when you are sick or injured is about as uni­versal as it gets. For Chaldean refu­gees who fled their homes and found themselves in a strange land with unfamiliar language and customs, it can quickly seem terrifying and in­surmountable.

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The Chaldean Community Foundation (CCF) wants to take that fear away by helping refugees get primary health care. Through classes at the foundation and con­nections within the community, the CCF helps refugees navigate through the U.S. health care system and connects them with doctors.

“Health care is often taken for granted by this community because of the challenges they face when arriving to America,” says Martin Manna, president of the CCF. “They must first provide for the family and learn the language before they con­sider caring for their health.”

The CCF and its partner, the Chaldean American Association for Health Professionals (CAAHP), help them understand and navi­gate the U.S. health care system. CAAHP is a nonprofit and non­political educational organization made up of physicians, pharmacists, dentists, nurses, and other allied health professionals of Chaldean descent.

The doctors are recommended and speak the three languages spo­ken in the Chaldean community. Their job is made easier by the phys­ical given by the government when the refugees arrive in the U.S.

The refugees’ physical health is often impacted by the trauma they experienced in their home country, which often makes it difficult for them to come forward with their problems.

“Many of the newly arrived refugees have unfortunately dealt with trauma and are dealing with general anxiety or PTSD,” says Manna. “There is a stigma when dealing with mental health issues, even more so in the Chaldean com­munity and education is needed to change the perception.”

To help the refugees overcome that challenge the CFF refers them to professionals specializing in men­tal health.

Other issues also plague the refu­gees.

Chronic illnesses like obesity, hy­pertension, heart disease and diabetes are already common in the Chaldean community and are often exacerbated by a lack of health education, mental anguish, stress and the challenges of living in a refugee camp.

 According to the CFF Com­munity Health Needs Analysis and Market (CHNAM) report on refu­gees:

• 66 percent were overweight or obese

• 6.7 percent had a history of diabetes

• 18.6 percent had a history of hypertension

The report also points out one of the most chronic issues among refu­gees is the high rate of smoking. Ac­cording to the CHNAM, 20 percent of sample refugees were smokers, which is 40 percent higher than the State of Michigan average. This is being addressed with the introduc­tion of smoking cessation programs.

To deal with these issues CAAHP’s Project Bismutha helps get people health care provided by donations via participating physicians and subsidizes the cost of prescriptions.

In addition, the CCF helps refugees purchase some form of health insurance. It is a vital way to get them the help they need or some kind of safety net as soon as possible

The CCF also has a job program that works to move the refugees off of government assistance. It places more than 60 percent of refugees in full-time jobs, which often come with insurance.

While the organization will continue helping Chaldean refugees, it is starting to move in a different direction as fewer of them come in to the U.S. Refugee flow has dropped by 90 percent in recent years.

This new direction will be more towards health and wellness education for youth and seniors and help for those without insurance. There are also plans for a “skills life center” where people with developmental disabilities will be able to learn life skills.

The plan is to support the existing 700 clients at a time when that program kicks off. It is part of a series of new programs planned when the CCF opens its expanded facility in January 2020.

Among the health and wellness programs it plans on will be an onsite primary care physician.

Over the past decade there have been a lot of ups and downs with America’s health care system and even its natives can have trouble navigating its programs. The CCF has taken a significant step to clear that confusion, especially for strangers in a stranger land.