SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A vital role in meeting the medical needs of refugees was met throughout the year, 2022, by the Caring Health Center in Springfield, as families were fleeing from their homes in Ukraine, Afghanistan, and other troubled spots across the globe last year.

“We witness incredible courage on the part of families – to risk everything to give their children the very things we often take for granted  –  access to nutritious food, education, and healthcare,” said Dr. Siobhan McNally, Chief of Pediatrics and Director of Pediatric Refugee Program at Caring Health Center.  “It inspires me on a daily basis.”

The health care facility said they provided health assessment services to 398 refugees in the past 12 months, a 22 percent increase over the previous year.

Tania M. Barber, CEO, and President of Caring Health Center says the Caring Health Center serves a diverse population in 39 languages. “We remain committed to eliminating health disparities for all people in Western Massachusetts, including the most recent residents,” Barber said. “In addition to health assessments and medical care, we have helped provide food, over-the-counter medications, furnishings, and other necessities to the refugee community.”

Refugees from Vietnam, Russia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Albania were first assisted by the Caring Health Center over 20 years ago. Most recently, Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, Moldova, Somalia, Congo, Russia, Vietnam, and El Salvador have been assisted.  According to Diana Loyuk, Refugee Health Program coordinator, refugee referrals from Ascentria Care Alliance (formerly Lutheran Social Services of New England), Jewish Family Services, and Catholic Charities are accepted by the center.

“The normal process is when we receive referrals from resettlement agencies, we schedule appointments for the whole family,” Loyuk said. “We schedule appointments for the children with our pediatric providers as quickly as possible because they have to register for school.”
Upon receiving a referral from one of those agencies, a patient has a 40-minute initial appointment with a provider who has been specially trained to work with refugees by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, she said.

“We do a basic medical screening that involves two visits,”  Dr. McNally said.  “The first visit is a physical exam and some routine lab work, including blood, urine, and stool testing. We review all of the documents they have come with and focus on immediate needs.  We also make sure from a public safety standpoint that it is safe for them or their children to go to school.”
Health workers sometimes find refugee patients who are skeptical of immunizations and vaccines, McNally said. “We try to share with them the science and explain it is safe and an essential element of protecting public health.”

Blood work and exam findings are evaluated and any additional immunizations are given in the second medical appointment.