Western Kentucky University is hosting its first Refugee Health Summit on Thursday, April 18. Assistant Professor in WKU’s Department of Public Health Michelle Reece is coordinator of the summit. Reece came to the WKU Public Radio studio and spoke with reporter Rhonda Miller about this new project.
Reece: My colleague and I, Dr. William Mkanta, we have some connection with the International Center of Kentucky here in Bowling Green. And over the course of the years we discovered that there are some issues that providers are facing as they’re interacting with our new residents, who are former refugees. And so we, through the Research and Creativities Program here at WKU, applied for a grant to look at “Provider Needs Assessment in Refugee Health Services.” This summit is partly a response to the findings from our study, the ethical thing that we need to do and go back to the community and provide the results and how we’re going to address some of the issues that came up in refugee health services.
Miller: What are the general results that you found through this study?
Reece: Some of the things that we found are the issues that providers are having - interpretation services and the ability to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services for some of the new residents to our community, the mental health challenges that refugees experience, pediatric oral and adult oral health problems that are enduring. Some of the other things that we discovered are some of the challenges of just learning how to interact with the refugee population because of the cultural differences and beliefs and approaches to health care.
Miller: In this first Refugee Health Summit, who is this appropriate for? Who should attend?
Reece: The Refugee Health Summit would be of benefit to any health service provider who interacts with the refugee community. So we’re talking about nurse practitioners, nurses, physicians, dentists, social workers, medical case managers and even front office persons who would be the first line, who would interact with them when they come into the medical facility.
Miller: I’m also wondering if it might be appropriate for people who work in schools.
Reece: Absolutely. Some of the providers who responded to our research study, school health service providers, and so they too could benefit from this.
Miller: What do you hope will become of this summit? Will there be a report? Will there be recommendations to the community? How do you see this overall affecting the future?
Reece: Besides discussing the unique issues that are prevalent among refugees in our community, we’re hoping to do some linkages. We discovered in the process of this that there are several different agencies and organizations who are working formally and informally with the refugee community, but it seems that we are not connecting very well. So to avoid duplication of services and to make the work easier we’re hoping that we can build some of those connections, that we could improve that network of stakeholders who are working to improve the health of refugees and immigrants in our community. We are hoping that we can share some of the best practices that we have discovered from other places around the country. And so together we are hoping now can put together a package of training that would help not only the refugees themselves, but also providers who are offering services.
Miller: In addition to topics like language and cultural issues, and connections, what else re you looking at as far as long-term goals?
Reece: We are training health service providers through our dental program, through our social work program, through psychology and we believe that as we can start to expand those programs to members of the refugee community, we can start addressing some of these issues of not having culturally and linguistically appropriate providers.
Miller: Anything else you’d just like to add about the summit?
Reece: This is an important opportunity for Western Kentucky University. We say that we are a university with an international reach and we believe that’s more than just study abroad. That’s more than just accepting international students. We believe that WKU is strategically positioned to be able to impact the health needs of our city.
Miller: Thank you Michelle Reece. I really appreciate you coming to talk with us.
Note: WKU’s first Refugee Health Summit will be held on Thursday, April 18 from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Knicely Conference Center in Bowling Green. There’s no charge for the summit and it’s open to the public. You can register online at the WKU Department of Public Health.