Refugee Health Initiative

Portrait of Alberica Piko, a Burmese refugee ESL student at the Educational Opportunity Center, Downtown Buffalo

Every year, Buffalo welcomes around 1,500 refugees from countries around the world including Burma, Bhutan, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Eritrea, Burundi, Liberia and more. 

Buffalo, NY is one of the top resettlement sites for refugees in the United States, resettling about 1,500 refugees annually. Refugees with diverse cultures, traditions and languages arrive in the United States with little knowledge of its systems and regulations. Many refugees have experienced trauma and sometimes torture due to conflict or war. The existing health care infrastructure is inadequately equipped to care for refugees; refugee patients can face numerous challenges in accessing high quality health care. Refugees often face barriers that include miscommunication due to poor interpretation across language divides, stigma related to mental health care, and differing perspectives of health and well-being. The University at Buffalo (UB) Office of Global Health Initiatives facilitated a UB-community partnership focused on improving health care for the refugee population in Buffalo.

2nd Annual WNY Refugee Health Summit: Community conversations to build pathways toward culturally engaged health care in Buffalo, NY

On April 9, 2015, as a part of National Public Health Week, over 150 people gathered at the Educational Opportunity Center in downtown Buffalo, NY for the 2 Annual Western New York Refugee Health Summit. The 2015 Summit was sponsored by the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions’ Office of Global Health Initiatives and organized through a unique and dynamic UB-community partnership between UB faculty, community organization representatives, and leaders from refugee communities.

To identify solutions to the many barriers to care for refugees, a Refugee Health Strategic Advisory Group has been formed with members of community groups serving refugees and university faculty and staff with core interests in the refugee population.  Formed in July 2014, the Refugee Health Strategic Advisory Group has identified several goals: 1) the development of an online resource portal, 2) investigation of training models for community health workers, and 3) an improved mental health care network for refugees, one that is especially relevant to trauma and torture. The 2 Annual WNY Refugee Health Summit highlighted the work being undertaken by the Advisory Group over the past year:

  1. The online resource portal was launched at the 2015 Summit. The portal includes health education materials in various languages, cultural backgrounders about populations arriving in Buffalo, and a directory of health care service providers who regularly serve refugee patients in a culturally-engaged manner. The aim of this site is to help reduce gaps in care and equip providers to effectively care for their patients.
  2. The Community Health Worker Network of Buffalo currently offers trainings to equip community members with the skills to facilitate education and referrals to improve community health. The Advisory Group aims to work with existing training methodologies to build capacity among refugee community leaders.
  3. Mental health care, especially for patients who have experienced trauma and torture is limited in Buffalo. Little is known about the real mental health needs in the community. The Advisory Group aims to partner with UB faculty to analyze the mental health needs among refugee communities and begin to build a framework toward improved mental health care.

To encourage collaborations and focus on solution-oriented work, participants broke into five groups to brainstorm one- and five-year goals focused around five barriers identified by the Advisory Group. Breakout groups focused on: increasing cultural and linguistic competency education and training, creating a community health worker network for refugees, streamlining provider recruitment and referral processes, and improving preventive care and mental health care. The Advisory Group will establish ongoing working groups with the aim to expand UB-community partnerships to improve culturally engaged health care for refugees.

2015 Summit participants included students and faculty from the University at Buffalo Schools of Medicine, Dental Medicine, Pharmacy, Public Health, Social Work, Undergraduate Education, and Architecture and Urban Planning as well as representatives from local clinics, resettlement agencies, refugee communities, higher education institutions, community and state foundations, and government agencies.

1st Annual WNY Refugee Health Summit 2014: Exploring Barriers and Models for Culturally Engaged Health Care in Buffalo, NY

Representatives from resettlement agencies, refugee service providers, and health care providers, leaders in the refugee communities, Buffalo Public Schools, and students and faculty from the University at Buffalo will meet on April 24th at the UB Educational Opportunity Center in downtown Buffalo to examine barriers and explore models to culturally engaged health care provision. 

Objectives:

  • To describe existing barriers of culturally engaged health care provision for stakeholder groups in WNY
  • To learn about successful models to providing culturally engaged health care for refugees in Buffalo and beyond
  • To identify potential linkages and spark collaborations to adapt and implement solutions to expand culturally engaged health care for refugees in Buffalo
Outcomes:
  • An informational hub that provides resources to address barriers, provides information on successful models of culturally engaged health care, and lists contact information to link resettlement agencies, health care agencies, and refugees.
  • A forum to develop leadership capacity building within refugee communities
  • Task forces to address the implementation of solutions to barriers of culturally engaged health care provision.

1st Annual WNY Refugee Health Summit 2014 Notes

The notes below summarize discussions held at the 2014 Refugee Health Summit.
A strategic planning committee is currently working to form task forces dedicated to the provision of culturally engaged health care for refugees in and around Buffalo. If you would like to become involved or seek more information, contact Jessica Scates, Office of Global Health Initiatives coordinator.

Refugee Health Summit Presentation

The Office of Global Health Initiatives was asked to present findings from the 1st Annual WNY Refugee Health Summit at the 2014 North American Refugee Health Conference, held in Rochester, New York. The presentation below summarizes the summit and future goals.

Study: Assessing cultural competency among outpatient clinic personnel serving refugee populations in Buffalo, New York

Kristina Young, MS

Location: Buffalo, NY
Department: Office of Global Health Initiatives fieldwork in partnership with the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health

This project surveyed outpatient clinics in Buffalo to assess the knowledge, skills and attitudes of outpatient clinic staff. The project is a part of a 3-part initiative funded by the Office of Global Health Initiatives to measure cultural competency of health care for refugees in Buffalo from outpatient provider, inpatient provider, and refugee patient perspectives

Course: Health for Refugee Populations in Buffalo

Simultaneously, the OGHI in partnership with the SPHHP Office of Public Health Practice and Office of Interprofessional Education (IPE) launched an IPE special topics course in spring 2014 entitled “Health for Refugee Populations in Buffalo.” The course provides students with an introduction to health issues, barriers to care, and health services for Western New York’s (WNY) refugee population. Through the course, students will explore, identify and prioritize major health issues impacting refugee communities and unmet needs for this underserved population, and recommend services or interventions to address the issues. The objectives of this service learning course will be met through faculty and student engagement with refugee community providers and client representatives, and significant participation in the Refugee Health Summit. Course material will be facilitated from an interprofessional education (IPE) perspective through guest lecturers from across UB’s IPE Schools focusing on IPE competencies as applied to refugee health. "Health for Refugee Populations in Buffalo" will be offered again in Fall 2015.

Community Partners