Recognizing Barriers to Care for our Immigrant Populations
During my final quarter in college, I decided to enroll in a Global Health course titled “Health and Well-Being among Refugees and Forced Migrants.” Through a series of discussions and impactful videos, I learned of the many challenges and adversities faced by individuals in their home countries that compel them to migrate and seek refuge in a new country—one that they may not at all be familiar with but need to quickly adapt to. Often, these individuals endure trauma through physical or sexual violence and struggle with mental health conditions. This class ultimately empowered me to pursue a public health-focused experience aimed at serving immigrant populations, and I found nothing more aligned with my goals than through my position with NHC.
Through the Squirrel Hill Health Center (SHHC), I serve as the Patient Support Specialist on the mobile medical unit, providing care navigation services to various populations within the Pittsburgh community. The mobile unit is used to bring comprehensive, primary care services to residents for whom lack of transportation is a barrier to care. Our patient population is also largely composed of refugees and immigrants who have limited English proficiency—yet another barrier to care within our healthcare system. Within my role, I coordinate appointments and help connect patients with specialists, while taking into consideration insurance statuses and language access. Many of the patients we see at our Coraopolis mobile unit site, for instance, are uninsured and only speak Spanish. I often use an interpreting service to communicate with patients and deliver culturally-competent care.
Many of our patients who lack insurance and have limited English proficiency also struggle with obtaining quality nutrition, so this year, my supervisor and I decided to incorporate Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program tracking into my position. I work closely with SHHC’s women health team to help our pregnant patients apply for WIC, a county program that supplies low-income patients with supplemental nutrition access. However, because many of our patients are unable to speak English, they are unable to follow up with the WIC office regarding the status of their applications, which can potentially leave their applications on hold for months on end. To help streamline this process, I became the point of contact between patients and the WIC office, coordinating appointment times and equipping patients with the necessary paperwork to complete their applications. As I familiarized myself with WIC’s policies, I found immense satisfaction in helping our patients access food and other basic necessities. As a result, this experience has led me to focus more on learning how to create and find solutions to address accessibility in healthcare.
My responsibilities as a Patient Navigator have revealed to me how social determinants of health challenge access to care for underserved populations. I realize that there is always more that can be done to tackle these obstacles, but I firmly believe that the first step to improving access to care is by recognizing these barriers at play and understanding that even small actions, like connecting patients to our county’s supplemental nutrition program, can make a significant difference in patients’ lives.