Healthcare providers and other medical experts met with members of the Southeast Asian community in West Hartford, Connecticut, on Tuesday in a rare session to assess their broad healthcare needs.
Around 150 Cambodian, Lao and Vietnamese met with members of the Southeast Asian American Health Coalition and Khmer Health Advocates, describing what they need in a proper healthcare system, especially for those who may have been traumatized by the conflict and violence of war.
“This issue brings them together,” said Theanvy Kouch, executive director of Khmer Health Advocates. Other issues are as mundane as the difficulty for many in the community to communicate their needs, or make appointments to call doctors or other medical professionals.
“This is a very important [session], and this is the first time that I have been to a meeting like this,” said Sothavat Yin, a resident here. “The Cambodian people may not understand this completely because they are in denial, especially their problems with mental health.”
The session began with residents describing their immigration experience, to help the healthcare providers, insurers and policymakers in attendance understand their challenges and needs.
At a panel discussion, health advocates, medical professors and pharmacists pointed out how the trauma experienced by many people in these communities have a strong link to chronic diseases, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
Finding quality healthcare is not easy for them, due to language barriers and a poor understanding of the US healthcare system.
“Language is a huge barrier,” said Megan Berthold, an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut, who spent three years working in refugee camps for Southeast Asians.
Without a professional interpreter, patients from these communities do not get access to appropriate medication and treatment, she said. “Many of these communities do not feel safe to even try to express the full extent of what they are experiencing, or to ask questions and better understand the treatment, to be able to participate and shape the treatment, so that it is appropriate for them.”
Their healthcare, then, must be guided via culture and language, said DJ Ida, a psychologist and the executive director of the National Asian American and Pacific Islander Mental Health Association. “Culture and language do make a difference. If the provider is not sensitive to their needs, you aren’t really able to do good, quality [treatment],” Ida said. “You need to have trained healthcare providers on culturally appropriate services. If you don’t have providers who are bilingual, you’ve got to train an interpreter.”
Providing healthcare to this kind of community means communicating in the language that they understand, with the doctor assessment on their health and the treatment, Sambo Ly, the director of the Refugee Health Interpreter Services of Alameda, said. “Each day we help more than 700 clients get access to health care services in a language they understand, and that means quality care.”
Victoria Veltri, the state of Connecticut healthcare advocate, was in attendance, listening to the communities interacting with one another concerning their needs for appropriate healthcare service.
“Only by listening to you can we change the way we can provide better healthcare to your needs,” she said, adding that when people come together as a community to explain what they need, the state health system has to be more responsive to them.
“This is a very strong signal to our state, maybe broader than our state, that we are going to have an effective healthcare delivery system when we include those people who need our system,” she said.
The first health session for the three communities was a “success,” Theanvy Kouch, who was also the main organizer of the event, said. “Having the three communities together like this means a perfect witness to address their health care needs.”