Navigating New Beginnings: Compassionate, Comprehensive Care for Refugee Patients
In the busy halls of Zufall Health – Plainsboro, a diverse array of patients receives health care services. Among them is Hassan*, a father of four and refugee from Afghanistan. Since his first visit to the health center in September 2023, Hassan has been addressing a number of health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and hypertension, under the care of nurse practitioner Nancy Patel, DNP, FNP-BC, and colleagues.
Providing a Second Chance
Hassan, his wife, and children are among the 100-plus individuals whom Zufall Health has served through its State Refugee Health Program (SRHP) established in October 2022 and funded by the New Jersey Department of Human Services – Office of New Americans.
Through the SRHP, Zufall provides newly arrived refugees with domestic medical screenings (DMS) and the opportunity to establish ongoing medical care. DMS are comprehensive medical exams that check for infectious diseases and noncommunicable conditions. These screenings also help integrate refugee patients into the U.S. health care system and fulfill legal requirements for immigration and asylum.
Since his DMS, Hassan continues to receive care at Zufall, which nurse practitioner Patel considers a second chance for him in life. In collaboration with nurses, case managers, a licensed clinical social worker, and a psychiatrist, Patel is helping Hassan to manage his behavioral health conditions and to bring his blood pressure under control.
“Patients like Hassan arrive at Zufall feeling frightened and hopeless,” Patel says. “Understandably, trust is a challenge for our refugee patients. For Hassan, we are compassionately forging connections – both within Zufall and with external specialists – to achieve the health outcomes he deserves for a better quality of life.”
Who Is a Refugee?
A refugee is person who is legally recognized as having been forced to flee their country due to persecution, war, or violence and cannot safely return home. Refugees apply for protection through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program prior to their arrival in the U.S.
In contrast, the term asylum seeker is a broader classification that applies to anyone seeking protection from their homeland, but whose claim for refugee status has not yet been recognized by the federal government. Unlike refugees, asylum seekers apply for protection once inside the U.S. or at the border.
Of the millions of people came to the U.S. in the federal fiscal year 2023 seeking asylum, about 60,000 received legal refugee status. Only people who are legally determined refugees who resettle in New Jersey are eligible for participation in the SRHP.
Hassan is more than one of more than 1.6 million Afghan refugees who left home to escape the persecution of the Taliban following their 2021 takeover. Tragically, he was captured and tortured by the Taliban and, after his release, secured temporary residence in the United Arab Emirates with his family.
Ultimately, the family came to the U.S. with sponsorship from Interfaith-Refugee & Immigrant Support & Empowerment (RISE). Interfaith-RISE and similar agencies provide resettlement assistance to refugees including housing, food, and employment, and refer them to Zufall for medical care.
A Reliable and Empathetic Resource
Refugees often have difficulty accessing health care after entering the U.S. and many arrive with significant histories of trauma. Operating under the direction of family medicine physician and assistant medical director, Douglas Bishop, MD, Zufall’s SRHP is well-equipped to address the complex health care needs of refugees like Hassan.
“Our providers and staff have significant experience handling the specialized needs of refugee and asylum seeker populations using a trauma-informed approach,” Bishop says. “With the SRHP, we are committed to ensuring that Zufall continues to be a reliable and empathetic resource for those seeking refuge and medical care in the U.S.”
*Name has been changed to protect patient privacy.