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Perceiving Health as a “Newcomer”

SSOE Admin Publishes Paper on Refugee Health Fair in the Journal of Community Health

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 3, 2020) — The communities to which we belong can play an important role in our health. A member of the Swanson School community, Jaime Turek, recently co-authored an article in the Journal of Community Health that explores and quantifies the effect of community events on health. More specifically, the paper examines the impact of a community health fair on the social determinants of health and wellness for the immigrant and refugee population in Pittsburgh.

Turek is the administrative office coordinator in the Office of the Associate Dean of Research. The research was completed when Turek was senior program coordinator at the Northern Area Multi-Service Center’s Community Assistance and Refugee Resettlement Department. There, she was responsible for resettling newly arrived refugees and immigrants, helping them access essential services, and assisting with cultural adjustment—even helping them learn the public transit systems in the city.

Setting up the newly arrived clients with primary health care and specialized health care as needed was an important aspect of the role. 

“In 2016, I saw the need to host a refugee and immigrant health fair because while we were connecting our clients to primary care and specialized treatment, there were myriad other health and wellness related resources available that they weren’t aware of or connected to,” said Turek. 

The first fair was a success, leading to an annual, growing event and even the declaration of “Refugee and Immigrant Health & Wellness Day” in Pittsburgh. But even though the fairs were well-attended, they wanted to ensure that all the attendees’ needs were being met. 

“In 2018, several of my former colleagues and I were having a discussion about how we think we know what the refugees and immigrants want in regards to their health and wellness, but in order for the fair to continue to be effective, we really need to ask them what they want, to involve them, to hear them,” said Turek. “And so we set out to develop a survey to capture their wants and needs, their perceptions of their health status and health needs.”

Their research found that participants’ health perception varied by ethnicity and was influenced by the individual’s proficiency in English, as well as their access to healthcare, employment and regular checkups. They found that an annual health fair—an informal, open event that offered health services like immunization and diabetic screening—was a successful strategy to break down structural barriers between the newcomers and healthcare providers.

“Social support is very important for psychosocial well being, and we suggest that special consideration should be given to newcomers who belong to small ethnic groups, as they reported high social isolation and loneliness,” said Turek. “I think, more broadly, I would like to encourage people to feel positively about accepting and welcoming ‘newcomer’ populations to our region. Many of them are just like us – they want peace, safety, freedom, the things that we, as Americans, hold near and dear.” 

The paper, “Community Health and Wellness Fair: A strategy for Assessment of Social Determinants of Health, Inclusion and Engagement of Newcomers” (DOI: 10.1007/s10900-020-00901-0) was co-authored by Khlood Salman, associate professor at the Duquesne University School of Nursing; Turek; and Caley Donovan, refugee caseworker at JFCS Refugee & Immigrant Services in Pittsburgh.

Author: Maggie Pavlick

Contact: Maggie Pavlick