Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains Refugee and Asylee Programs

Home Is Where the Health Is

Navigating the U.S. healthcare system can be a confusing and arduous process even for those who are born here with English as their native tongue. But consider arriving in the U.S. as a refugee or asylee and, whether or not you also need to learn English, trying to figure out how to acquire health insurance; how to use an insurance card; the differences between primary care, emergency room and urgent care doctors; what to do if you get injured on the job; or even when to call 911.

Providing training around these types of issues is just a part of Andrew Byrd’s job with Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains Refugee and Asylee Programs. As the Health and Wellness Coordinator, Byrd meets with clients who are resettling in Colorado Springs within days of arrival. He then works with them to obtain mandated initial health screenings, get connected to a primary care provider at Peak Vista, obtain medical coverage, coordinate transportation to and from medical appointments, and set up translation services if they’re not offered by the medical provider.

Another one of his job duties is educating on health and home safety. “A lot of our clients have never used certain appliances before. And so they don’t know how a toaster works or they don’t know how the dishwasher works. They don’t know that the water here in Colorado is clean to drink,” Byrd says.

They also may not know how to use a washing machine to clean their clothes, how to take a bus to get to a medical appointment, or how to keep their kids safe.

“They may come from areas where it’s OK to let your kid out into the streets because there are no cars in a refugee camp and so they’re not going to be hit,” explains Byrd. “But here in the United States if you let your kid outside and they go play in the street — well, you know.”

LFS’ grant from Colorado Springs Health Foundation has allowed the 70-year-old faith-based nonprofit not only to increase the amount and type of training available for refugee and asylee clients, but also to expand the timeframe for serving them. “After eight months, they were kind of on their own because we didn’t have the capacity to serve them,” says Byrd. “But now we can serve people more in-depth medical services for a longer period of time, up to five years.”

Byrd does make it really clear though that while LFS provides a lot of health services for clients that they absolutely need because there’s no way they’d be able to navigate the health system here in the U.S. without the nonprofit involved, it doesn’t say anything about their personal capabilities. “It doesn’t indicate our clients are uneducated or that they don’t have the ability to grasp concepts. It’s just that they’ve come from maybe a different culture and a different environment where they have a very specific skill set that we here in the United States don’t possess.”

That skill set, different though it may be, ends up benefitting the larger community. Byrd shares that many refugee clients have opened their own businesses locally, and “inject additional diversity into the community as far as entrepreneurial ideas.”

They also inject money into the community. Not only did the 2017 Economic and Fiscal Impact of Refugees in Colorado Report show that for every $1 the state invests in a refugee, $1.23 comes back in the form of state and local tax revenue, but for every dollar spent on refugees, $1.68 is generated in industry activity throughout Colorado’s economy.