Refugees find health care in Binghampton

Christ Community Health Services and World Relief Memphis work together to provide health care and other services to refugees who are resettled in Memphis, many of whom are located in the Binghampton community.
When refugees arrive from war-torn lands to a new and foreign home in the United States, they face so many obstacles. In Memphis, where World Relief Memphis resettles many refugees in the Binghampton community, health care is a big need.
 
Through a cooperative arrangement with World Relief, Christ Community Health Services at its Broad Avenue Center serves a large number of refugees and immigrants settled in Memphis, many of whom are relocated to the Binghampton area. That includes refugees from Cambodia, Somalia, Sudan and Vietnam among many other countries.
 
Refugees do go through a series of medical checks and screenings before arriving in the U.S. to make sure they don’t have any major health concerns. And once they arrive in Memphis, those families continue to receive medical care at Christ Community that is provided through insurance for refugees. Some basic services include immunizations that are necessary for green card applications.
 
“Christ Community has been a great partner,” said PJ Moore, Interim Office Director for World Relief. “They’ve always given us a thumbs up that they can take more. They’ve been a great partner, not just through helping us provide medical services but we’ve referred workers to them.”
 
Christ Community Health Services has helped with refugee resettlement through the years in a few ways. Doctors do initial health screenings and exams to make sure individuals have all the shots needed in the U.S. They also take care of all eye, dental and behavioral needs.
 
Lance Luttrell, Chief Operating Officer with Christ Community Health Services, said over the past several years there are more than 55 countries where people have come from; the last three years have seen 13 countries with a majority from Somali, Iraq and Nepal.
 
“That changes over time based on where the needs are,” he said. “And what I’ve heard from staff even in the last couple of months is we’re getting an influx of Syrians. When somebody has fled a country it takes about five years to get a ticket out of a refugee camp and sent to America. This wave we’re seeing now is a result of things back in 2011. Considering that five-year lag and the reason folks are refugees in the first place in war-torn areas, unjust circumstances or whatever it is, there is a lot of trauma.”
 
One of the major health needs of refugees is mental health. Beginning in the fall, Christ Community Health Services will have a doctor who is a specialist in post-traumatic stress disorder. A son of a refugee, he is Hmong nationality, which is an ethnic group from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.
 
“That’s a huge need we have,” Moore said. “It seems pretty obvious that there might be emotional health issues pertaining to the pure definition of what a refugee has gone through. … Thirty-nine percent of refugees worldwide have symptoms of PTSD vs. 1 percent of the rest of the world population. And that’s a lot of children suffering from those emotional psychological challenges.”
 
Addressing mental health at the Broad center will present an interesting dynamic for the Christ Community Health Services staff. On one hand, many of the residents in the neighborhoods the center serves in Binghampton tend to deal with anxiety, depression and substance abuse. But with refugees, the No. 1 issue is trauma.
 
“What they’ve seen and gone through, think about what our soldiers typically see,” Luttrell said. “These are war-torn lands. When they come in to our group we want to help them work through those things. Have they processed these things, even though it’s been a number of years? There is also a reality that that’s in our neighborhoods, as well. They’re seeing trauma that should never be witnessed. But our native population tends to be more depression, anxiety and substance abuse.”
 
The Christ Community Health Services Broad Avenue Center formerly was known as the Brannon-McCullough Family Health Center. It merged with the Broad Avenue Center to become Christ Community Health Services’ second location in 1999.
 
The location is a full-service health center that offers primary care for adults, women and children, and also is a full-service pharmacy. There is a dental center nearby, as well.
 
The Broad Avenue center serves more than 14,000 patients per year from its six ZIP code service areas. The refugee population is just one segment of Memphians who receive health care at Christ Community Health Services, which has seven centers and a mobile service that reach over 57,000 patients a year across the city.
 
All patients – including refugees – receive a range of health services at Christ Community Health Services. The refugee population faces many of the same health concerns as Americans, from diabetes to prenatal care and well-child checkups.
 
The nearby dental clinic on Broad Avenue does provide services many of the refugees haven’t received before in their home countries where good dental care isn’t common.
 
Long-term, Moore said there is a need to expand ways to reach refugees who are dealing with past traumas. That could include in-house services or offering trauma healing sessions.
 
“We’d love to be able to raise funding to bring a trauma healing program to World Relief and work with Christ Community,” he said. “If someone is interested in mental health and has services to give or can give financially to help the program get off the ground that would be a major help.”
 
Other ways the greater community can help with refugee health care include the simple donations of childcare items such as car seats, pack ‘n’ plays and other baby items for many of the expectant mothers who arrive in Memphis, some of whom are single and have been separated from their families.

Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler. 
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