Resettled Refugees In Tucson Face Barriers To Healthcare

By Claire Caulfield
Published: Wednesday, December 26, 2018 - 11:10am

Arizona accepted 39,031 refugees between 2001 and 2016, and a recently-published study from Harvard University found that language differences and cultural practices are two significant barriers to receiving healthcare.

Researchers interviewed resettled refugees in Seattle, Los Angeles and Tucson. The study said Tucson only “somewhat” had a system for connecting refugees with healthcare resources.

Language is an obvious barrier when seeking adequate healthcare.

“I have patients that are more established and now understand English better and they tell me, ‘She's not saying it right. That's not what I said,’ from the translator, so I know that there's a lot lost in translation,” said one nonprofit professional in Tucson.

Lack of access to culturally appropriate care was the most frequently mentioned problem for most refugee groups.

One man said that he visited a hospital in Tucson known for it’s excellence in mother and childcare, but he said the healthcare professionals had “no clue” about female genital mutilation.

“I want the money to go so that they know more about refugees, so that my wife does not die there when she's giving birth,” he said. “Because I'm not only a former refugee, I'm a member of this community and I'm a citizen.”

The World Health Organization estimates more than 200 million women and girls have been affected by female genital mutilation, mainly from countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Other impediments were surprising to the researchers such as navigating the complex medical system in America.

“That doctor wants you to go to a different specialist but you can't just go to them, it has to be a referral. The insurance has to be approved beforehand and after, but you have to call about seeing a specialist. And I see a gap there,” said one former refugee and current medical interpreter in Tucson.

There were bright spots for Tucson including “strong refugee communities of support,” and more affordable housing options compared to Los Angeles and Seattle.

The study recommends doctors and other healthcare professionals spend more time with their refugee patients to build rapport and trust.

“I think when you work in this field, you hear a lot of tragic stories. And I think what's surprising is that you don't really work with many tragic individuals,” said one mental health provider.

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