Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Heath needs of rural immigrant seniors often overlooked; one Kansas hospital has worked hard on a solution

Health research on immigrants has often focused on younger people living in urban areas, since they make up the vast majority of immigrants. But that leaves a gap in knowledge about older immigrants and refugees living in rural areas.

Most rural immigrants, including seniors, work in physically demanding fields such as agriculture or meatpacking, which increase risks for problems such as arthritis and heart disease. And many have trauma resulting from war, torture, or loss of family ties in their home country. But besides the general shortage of medical care options all rural residents face, language and cultural barriers can keep these rural seniors from accessing medical care, Beth Baker reports for Next Avenue. And some immigrant seniors are not even aware of some services being offered.

One rural health center is working hard to serve local immigrants. Kearny County Hospital is in Lakin, Kansas, the 10th most remote town in the nation and serves immigrants from nearly 30 nations who work in a nearby meatpacking plant. We've written about it before as an example of how innovation can help a rural hospital reverse its fortunes.

The hospital worked with a University of Kansas Medical Center researcher to conduct a community survey to better understand local immigrants' needs. Kearny County Hospital CEO Benjamin Anderson told Baker they got surprising feedback: "Hispanics wanted more services, [especially] support for caregivers at home, mental and behavioral health treatment and systems for finding healthy food." In response, the hospital created a three-year plan that includes better walkability, neighborhood greenhouses, and integrating mental health and primary care services.

The hospital serves all, regardless of ability to pay and provides free language translation services. "In addition, it has received national acclaim for a policy of granting doctors 10 weeks’ vacation to do  international service trips," Baker reports. Doctors usually go where their immigrants are from, to countries such as Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Haiti, and Somalia. "We attract people who are motivated to relieve suffering," Anderson said.

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