Understanding how to access health care can be one of the biggest barriers facing immigrants and refugees after they arrive in the U.S. Noor Tbakhi, Heartland Health Centers’ new coordinator of refugee and immigrant health, is here to help.
Tbakhi is the point person for Heartland Health Centers’ work as part of the Illinois Alliance for Welcoming Health Care, connecting immigrants and refugees referred by partners such as local service agencies and community groups to health care and other services.
The program focuses on two groups: refugees & unaccompanied minors within the first 5 years of arrival and asylees & victims of trafficking within the first 5 years after they are granted status by the U.S. But Tbakhi says she strives to help every immigrant and refugee who contacts her.
“My job is to introduce immigrants and refugees to [aspects of] the U.S. healthcare system that we maybe take for granted,” Tbakhi says. Language barriers are the biggest challenge, especially when getting just a few details wrong can hinder access, she says. But misinformation and mistrust can also be obstacles to care.
Tbakhi is well prepared to be of assistance. Herself the child of Palestinian immigrants, she grew up in the Chicago area, speaking English and Arabic [and helping in her family’s restaurant business].
Tbakhi is a recent graduate of University of Illinois at Chicago, where she studied public health. She joined Heartland Health Centers after working at Northwestern University Medical Center and interning during college in Lurie Children’s Hospital in Healthy Communities and Government Relations programs.
The Refugee Health Program initiative recognizes that being healthy is an important part of integrating. Tbakhi can help arrange transportation as well as connect patients with medical providers.
Some of the services Tbakhi can assist with include:
- Establishing a relationship with a primary care provider for immediate and long-term care needs
- Setting up appointments and interpretation services if needed
- Assistance with picking up / understanding prescriptions
- Assist with referrals or community resources
- Connect with behavioral or integrated medicine (especially if needed for refugees who may have undergone trauma prior to arriving in U.S.)
- Share information about health literacy and health classes/integrative medicine