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Affinia Healthcare receives federal grant to support Afghan health and wellness

Health Insurance and Healthcare and Dentistry and Needles
Subin Yang
Special to NPR
Affinia Healthcare received nearly $390,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide Afghan refugees with health care education and wellness services.

People who resettled in the region from Afghanistan can receive health and wellness services through a federal grant awarded to Affinia Healthcare.

The St. Louis-area federally qualified health center received $388,437 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which will be administered through the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a refugee resettlement organization.

The Refugee Health Promotion federal grant will allow Affinia Healthcare to provide health education, guided assistance with other resettlement services and access to wellness support.

“It's difficult enough for people who were born in this country who speak the language to navigate our health care system. Imagine if you're just arriving into the city, you have no idea,” said Dr. Kendra Holmes, Affinia Healthcare president and CEO.

Refugee health educators will host sessions for Afghan families on nutrition, food resources in the region and how to apply for Missouri’s supplemental nutrition program. The grant also will help refugees with transportation, housing, education and employment services. Affinia Healthcare will offer these services through September.

“It's really a whole wraparound approach to ensure that they have the best start possible for their new life,” Holmes said.

Since August 2021, about 1,200 Afghan refugees have resettled in the St. Louis region. Many Afghan refugees fled their home countries for the U.S. because they feared for their lives. Holmes said Affinia Healthcare is intentional about incorporating mind and body practices to help reduce stress and anxiety and address the trauma that many Afghans have experienced. Family medicine physicians will teach weekly wellness classes to help refugees process that trauma.

Yearly, the health care clinic serves 4,000 immigrants. It has long collaborated with several local refugee and immigrant organizations, including the International Institute of St. Louis, to provide initial medical screenings and immunizations for newly arriving immigrant families.

Language is a huge barrier to understanding the health care system, so having community health care centers with systems in place to accommodate immigrants and refugees is necessary, said Arrey Obenson, president of the International Institute of St. Louis.

“Many of our arrivals come from countries that do not have a sophisticated health care system,” he said. “Many may not have even gone through the physical assessment, many may not have visited a dentist or any other specialized medical assistant.”

Holmes hopes Affinia Healthcare's efforts to help immigrant and refugee families will encourage other organizations to support new arrivals in various ways.

“Our population in St. Louis in particular continues to decline,” Holmes said. “Not only do we need to focus on retaining the population that we have, we have to grow new populations, and the immigrant and refugee population is a great opportunity to grow our St. Louis region.”

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.