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St. Louis health care providers urged to have staff who can help new immigrants

Unauthorized immigrants in rural areas who seek legal representation can often face roadblocks when trying to find credible lawyers.
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
International Institute of St. Louis leaders say language barriers could make it hard for some of the new arrivals to understand the health care system as they’re trying to get settled. They want health care providers to make sure they’re able to communicate with an expected surge of new arrivals from other countries.

With more people from other countries likely to arrive in the St. Louis area this year, advocates for refugees and immigrants say it’s critical for health care providers to make sure they can communicate with new arrivals.

The International Institute of St. Louis expects to see arrivals from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Haiti, Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela.

Language barriers and unfamiliarity with the country’s health care system could make it hard for some of them to understand the ins and outs of the U.S. health care system as they’re trying to get settled, said Blake Hamilton, senior vice president of talent development and advocacy for the International Institute.

“It's understanding what benefit that you have and what a copay is and what costs are associated with what a doctor’s appointment might be,” Hamilton said. “But it’s also understanding your provider.”

People who are refugees will receive initial health screenings and health care for their first eight months in the U.S., but they will then need to purchase insurance coverage, obtain it through an employer or apply for public benefits.

Last week, Affinia Healthcare received a $63,000 grant from the Lutheran Foundation of St. Louis to help immigrants and refugees connect with health care services. Affinia will also provide a community health worker who will work with help refugees and immigrants navigate the health care system and apply for Medicaid.

“Navigating the health care system is difficult when you are from this country and when you speak the language,” said Dr. Kendra Holmes, president and CEO of Affinia Healthcare. “So imagine the challenges when you don't speak the language, you don't understand the health care system.”

Homes said prenatal care, screenings, immunizations and mental health services are some of the most-needed services for refugees and immigrants.

Hamilton said Affinia and BJC Healthcare have prioritized programs to provide immigrants help in their own languages. Focusing on such services will lead to better health outcomes for immigrants and refugees, he said.

“We'd love to see more institutions providing more health care, access to immigrants and refugees by expanding their language service capacity,” Hamilton said, “whether that's hiring staff that speak multiple languages, ensuring that they have a proper relationship with interpretation and translation services to help deliver that.”

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.