Akron Children’s Hospital recently received a $35,000 grant from the Helen V. Brach Foundation to create a position for a bilingual community health worker (CHW). This role will help bridge the gap between the local medical community and the more than 1,400 refugees from Burma and Bhutan who have relocated to the greater Akron area.
“Creating the CHW position sends a strong message that Akron Children’s is committed to serving our diverse communities,” says Natasha Curtis, Akron Children’s language access services manager. “Relationships are paramount in interactions with these populations; investing and building relationships is the best thing we can do. Our CHW will help us accomplish this.”
Akron is a United Nations resettlement community for these refugees. The Burmese fled human rights abuses by the Burmese army.
“Refugee families have to overcome many hurdles to access the U.S. healthcare system,” says Curtis. “This population also faces multiple health challenges as a result of living in refugee camps prior to coming to the U.S., including malnutrition, infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, and poor oral health. Through this position, we want to positively impact the health and health behaviors of these refugee communities.”
The bilingual and bicultural CHW will work closely with the Burmese and Bhutanese communities and Akron Children’s, particularly in the hospital’s Locust Pediatric Care Group, which counts the Burma and Bhutan refugees as 20 percent of its client base. Locust Pediatrics houses the only healthcare providers for the pediatric refugee population, serving more than 1,400 refugee and immigrant children. Each month, 10 new families enter the clinic.
“In addition to addressing immediate health needs, our hope is that the CHW will help us build trust within these communities and engage families,” says Curtis. “We want this person rooted in the community. As that relationship develops, the members of these refugee groups will hopefully become more proactive in reporting health problems so that in time, we can be more preventive than reactive.”
Once the position is filled, Curtis believes that this individual will help the hospital deliver its mission in new and innovative ways.
“We’re finding a better way to serve and reach these families,” she says. “By focusing on building trust, we’re able to deliver care in a way in which these individuals can understand and assimilate. It’s through this that we recognize our own cultural humility and appreciate that many of the answers to how we deliver their care need to come from them. Our CHW will help us achieve this.”
The effort is part of the larger Summit County Refugee Health Task Force, a collaborative effort of agencies that directly serve refugees: Akron Children’s Hospital; Akron General Medical Center; Summa Health System; Summit County Public Health Department; fire and police departments; International Institute of Akron; Asia, Inc.; and Office of Refugee Resettlement.
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