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City Heights Workshop Finds Barriers to Refugee Oral Healthcare

Filed in Health Program News by on January 27, 2017

On January 27, 2017, Nile Sisters Development Initiative (NSDI) hosted an oral healthcare workshop for members of the City Heights refugee and immigrant community. Through this workshop, NSDI was able to better understand the challenges that refugees and immigrants face when seeking dental care and to identify opportunities to improve access to dental providers.

In 2014, the California Department of Public Health reported that the primary preventable health condition among newly settled refugees is dental caries. Failure to receive preventive care can result from a host of factors, including limited English proficiency and economic and/or cultural barriers.

The NSDI Refugee Oral Health Initiative (ROHI) previously determined that language continues to be one of the greatest barriers for refugees and immigrants when accessing dental and general healthcare services. In one particular case study, the only Burmese dentist in the San Diego community had retired, leaving many with no Burmese-speaking dentist to visit for regular dental check-ups. Not many dental providers offer translational services or speak the refugees’ native language, and the ones that do often have long wait times for appointments. For example, one workshop participant stated that he had to wait up to 40 days for an appointment opening with a provider who speaks his language. Approximately 81% of refugees in attendance also reported that they would go to the dentist more often if more offices had staff that spoke their native tongue.

Photo of people in a workshop setting

Many members of our community are unfamiliar with the concept of primary care or visiting a healthcare provider regularly. Oral healthcare services are not readily available, and there is a lack of understanding about the importance of accessing preventative healthcare services. In our most recent workshop, more than 90% of community members stated that it is important to have educational documents in their mother tongue in order to allow adequate explanation of services being rendered.

The financial burden of dental care is also a major barrier to accessing adequate preventative healthcare treatment. Those eligible for Denti-Cal are not guaranteed coverage for a wide range of necessary procedures. For instance, one refugee in attendance stated that her dental insurance covered only check-ups and hygiene, but not root canals, which would have drained $800 from her own pocket. Consequently, she had to forego the procedure and has been coping with pain on a daily basis since.

Through ROHI focus groups and workshops, NSDI is able to identify and address barriers to healthcare services for our population. We utilize this information to advocate for programs and policies that promote the health and well-being of our communities.

NSDI would like to thank Kym Hodge, MPH, Community Health Program Specialist from the County of San Diego, for joining us! She shared valuable resources with our constituents regarding free dental care services.

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