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Three Leaders' Thoughts on Healthcare Change for Clarkston

What does the Clarkston community see as the major healthcare concerns of its residents? To find out, we sat down with three community leaders to get their personal thoughts: Talib Aku, Brian Bollinger, and Esther Basnet.

Talib Aku is a new American who was resettled to Clarkston in 2012 after fleeing Myanmar. He serves in leadership of the Burmese Rohingya Community group and also works at Fresh Harvest where he oversees sales at the Share the Harvest market. Brian Bollinger has lived and served among refugees in Clarkston for the past eleven years. He has been the executive director of Friends of Refugees since 2013. Esther Basnet is ethnically Tibetan Bhutanese. Before immigrating to the US, she lived in Bhutan. She now serves as the Resettlement Program Manager for World Relief Atlanta where she has worked since 2009.

Transportation, language barriers, and affordability were repeatedly mentioned as top problems from the perspectives of Talib, Brian, and Esther.

1. Transportation

In Clarkston, many refugee residents don’t have cars which can cause complications with accessing healthcare. Talib explained “mostly it is husbands who drive and the husbands go to work, so if a baby gets sick, the family must wait until the husband can drive them to the doctor. The husband has to take off from work to take them.” Brian pointed out another transportation problem: “if one child is sick, what is a parent going to do with the other four children?” Esther brought up an additional issue: “People have referrals to different parts of town… that itself is a huge barrier for immigrants…many pay for their transport.”

2. Language Barriers

With the wide array of languages spoken in the diverse community of Clarkston, there is also “a real and consistent need” to have medical interpretation for all people, according to Brian. Talib and Esther echoed this concern citing the difficulty immigrants face in finding their own interpreters. Esther mentioned frustrations with the lack of use of language translation phone lines and that many area providers offer services in only a few languages. She highlighted other problems in communication. At times, people whose native language is not English “don’t understand the accent of people giving appointments.”

3. Affordability

Lastly, expectations around pricing and affordability of care were discussed. Talib described the shock people in the community feel when they receive a medical bill. “Ahh its too much... I just saw one doctor!” Brian named pricing as the most confusing thing about navigating healthcare for newcomers. Esther suggested that in the “background [immigrants] come from, insurance is not a concept and they don’t have that mentality. They think, ‘why do I need that?’ The longer they stay, they know they can’t live without insurance here.” For those who work, insurance is typically offered in the workplace. However, the plans people purchase rarely “include the spouse let alone the children,” according to Esther. Others who had insurance at one point may still qualify but don’t know that they qualify and don’t try to renew, Esther finished. Brian remarked that basically “the premium [offered by many refugee employers] is equivalent to the paycheck.” When you don’t have insurance, the options for healthcare become very limited.

So, what would better healthcare look like here in Clarkston?

Talib’s View:

“It would be better for Clarkston and the refugee community if there was an office nearby the apartments where everybody can walk and go. Also, it would be good for languages like Burmese, Rwandan, and Nepali languages to be offered. Doctors should tell [patients] how much the bill will be before it is received.”

Brian’s Perspective:

“Medical consumers would like to spend their money in a way that is connected to actual flourishing of community; the choosing consumers who are cash payers or insured [want] a care provider who is going to provide real service to Clarkston.”

Brian suggested talking with major employers like factories to reengineer health insurance and availability of appointments.

Esther’s Suggestions:

“A bigger facility with everything in one building [would be] helpful for immigrants. We are new to the concept of medical facilities here and [some immigrants] have multiple issues ... if they do need a referral, work to refer to facilities nearby, not to another county or Timbuktu.”“Providers who [take Medicaid] and are reachable and affordable” are needed as well as “immigrant friendly workers who speak slowly and repetitively…who have the time and grace to go a little above and beyond remembering the patients’ unfamiliarity of the systems and geography.”

What are YOUR ideas for change in healthcare in Clarkston? Ethnē Health wants to hear from you! Better health happens together!

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