Hoping to Become National Model, California Program Targets, Tracks Refugee Health
California health officials have launched a new program aimed at tracking "every aspect" of refugees' health status to ensure they receive appropriate care, the Scripps-McClatchy Western Service/Denver Rocky Mountain News reports. Last year, 86,000 refugees -- allowed into the country to "escape persecution because of their political or religious views and activities" -- entered the United States, 11,000 of whom settled in California. Using federal funds, California provides refugee health screenings in 13 counties that have the largest number of refugees. Presenting the program Nov. 15 at the annual American Public Health Association meeting in Boston, Laura Hardcastle, chief of California's Department of Health Services Refugee Health Section, said that many refugees' physical and mental health problems "have never been carefully assessed and many go untreated as a result." She said, "We know that refugees suffer more than communicable disease. These are people who have suffered trauma, torture, rape, dismemberment -- all kind of things that people can't imagine in the United States because we don't live under those conditions." Hardcastle added that seven out of every 10 new refugees have one or more health problems that need treatment, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Particularly, a "majority" of refugees have "urgent" dental problems, she said. Through the screenings, health officials diagnose health problems and then discuss their findings with each refugee. They also inform refugees of providers whom they can contact for care. Refugees' information is entered into the state's new $300,000 Refugee Health Electronic Information System, which legislators, policy advocates, private foundations and public officials can use. Other states have inquired about this system since its implementation last month. Raising Concerns Although the counties are gathering health information on refugees, a "larger concern" is that there is no "guarantee" that refugees will receive "adequate and continuous care," Scripps-McClatchy/Rocky Mountain News reports. Single male refugees or childless refugee couples only have eight months of Medicaid coverage, after which time they "must make their own way in a complex and costly health care system." In addition, some county officials have complained that "it takes too long to complete the questionnaire." But Carolyn Lynch, Sacramento County's program manager for refugee health, said "she hopes the data gathered from the new assessments will spur health care providers to recognize and address the problems and fuel support for increased health coverage for refugees." She added, "This is a wake up call for the community" (Griffith, Scripps-McClatchy Western Service/Denver Rocky Mountain News, 11/16).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.