ROGERS PARK — A nonprofit health center has added refugee health services as the city is seeing a spike in its refugee population.
Heartland Health Centers’ Rogers Park clinic, 1300 W. Devon Ave., contracted with the state and federal government earlier this year to provide health screening for arriving refugees.
To meet that mission, Heartland has boosted its refugee and immigrant services team, including hiring its first clinical director of refugee and immigrant health, leaders for the nonprofit said. The clinic has also added an outreach worker and a medical assistant who recently arrived from Afghanistan, according to Heartland Health.
Heartland has provided initial health screenings to just more than 100 newly arrived refugees since late January, said Jehan Adamji, Heartland’s new clinical director of refugee and immigrant health. It continues to give health exams to about a dozen refugee patients each week.
The local refugee population has surged since the United States withdrew troops from Afghanistan, forcing locals to flee as the Taliban took control. More than 2,100 Afghan refugees have resettled in Illinois since September, according to the Tribune. The state is planning to welcome as many as 3,000 Afghans.
The health screenings are required as part of being resettled in the United States, but they also allow Heartland to establish relationships with patients and provide ongoing health care for the population, Adamji said.
“These are patients who come to us with unique life experiences and complex needs,” Adamji said. “Now, we really have an opportunity to explore new care delivery models as we aim to improve quality and outcomes.”
Heartland works with refugee resettlement agencies to be linked with patients to meet their immediate health needs, such as access to vaccines, plus dental and eye care.
After the initial screening, patients come back to Heartland for follow-ups or to be referred to a primary care doctor who works with the patients on routine needs, including cancer screenings and family planning services.
Heartland is also able to provide access to mental health services, Adamji said. That includes visits with mental health clinicians, and Heartland’s refugee health team is working to establish more “informal” mental health resources, including in peer and group settings, Adamji said.
“We’re seeing a need for mental health [care], and we’re being creative in ways to address those needs,” she said.
Working on the refugee and immigrant health team is Dr. Hamdullah Hamid Rahmany, who practiced medicine in Kabul and came to Chicago in August. Hamdullah is fluent in Dari and Pashto, helping bridge a language barrier that can provide a roadblock to health services for refugees, Adamji said.
The refugee and immigrant program at Heartland’s Devon Avenue clinic is still being ramped up. The group will assess how to best decrease barriers to health care for refugees as the program evolves.
“It’s really exciting,” Adamji said. “This population brings so much to communities. If we can offer high quality services that can meet them where we’re at … it’s got great potential and can lead to healthier communities.”
Heartland Health Centers was founded by Heartland Alliance more than 20 years ago, and it has seven community health clinics plus school-based clinics. Heartland Alliance has come under fire for conditions at its child immigrant shelters. Heartland Health Centers has since spun off from its parent group and is no longer affiliated with the organization, a spokesperson said.
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