Incoming Hmong refugees to receive medical help at several U clinics

Hayley Odom

The University’s North Memorial Clinic provides medical aid to many cultures in the Twin Cities. But soon one of those populations will increase significantly, and the clinic is working to cater to its needs.

As they arrive in the United States, many Hmong refugees will receive their medical attention at North Memorial and three other University clinics.

Physicians and residents at the clinics, which are located in areas with high Southeast Asian populations, will offer health screenings and other services to refugees.

“Two clinics are providing refugee screening for the Hmong refugees, but all clinics are gearing up to take care of the general health of these patients and their ongoing medical needs,” said Wendy Nickerson, director of clinic operations for University of Minnesota Physicians, a network of several University clinics.

The Minnesota Department of Health usually screens incoming refugees, said Ann O’Fallon, Minnesota Department of Health refugee health coordinator. But because of the high number of arrivals, the health department asked local clinics to help shoulder the burden.

The federal health department will fund the refugees’ care. The Minnesota Department of Health is offering training sessions on Hmong refugee health care to participating clinics.

North Memorial clinic physician Kim Petersen, who worked with predominately Hmong patients at another clinic, said working with immigrants transcends cultural boundaries.

“I really enjoy cross-cultural connections,” she said. “The skills you use to take care of Hmong patients translate to (communicating) with anyone who’s different from you.”

The clinic’s screening provides immunizations and general physical, vision and hearing tests, as well as testing for tuberculosis, hepatitis B, malaria, intestinal parasites and sexually transmitted infections.

Conditions at Wat Tham Krabok, the main Hmong refugee camp in Thailand, determine the other kinds of medical attention refugees will receive, O’Fallon said.

Health officials said they expect to treat many cases of tuberculosis and hepatitis B, common ailments at the camp.

Cultural and lifestyle differences between Wat Tham Krabok and the United States might also cause mental health problems, O’Fallon said.

Nickerson said the clinics are already experiencing a shortage of resources for dealing with mental health issues.

“We’re not going to be able to handle the influx of mental health cases, and we’ll have to refer them out,” she said.

Other clinic resources are low as well, said Lori McPherson, North Memorial clinic manager.

“We’ve already stretched resources for interpreters and patient advocates,” she said.

Patient advocates will help refugees apply for social security and provide information on English as a Second Language programs.

Pahoua Vang, a Hmong interpreter at North Memorial Clinic, said she understands the importance of helping Hmong refugees adjust to U.S. health care.

“Back in the camp, it’s really hard to go to hospitals,” Vang said. “A lot of their treatments are herbal, and the transition to Western medicine might be hard.”