The Republic of the Union of Myanmar, also known as Burma, lies more than 8,100 miles from Indianapolis. Surrounded by India, Bangladesh, China, Thailand and Laos, it is the northernmost country in what is considered southeast Asia.
The Burmese people have faced decades of political, social and religious oppression. Some have been granted refugee status and are resettled in the United States. Approximately 25,000 of them have been resettled in the Indianapolis area, and many of them are situated in the southern portion of the metropolitan area.
The Burmese’ transition to America has not been an easy one. Nationally, Burmese households have the highest poverty rate (45 percent), the lowest annual income ($36,000) and the lowest rate of English proficiency (28 percent) of any Asian-American group. Research shows that socioeconomic status and language barriers contribute to health disparities among ethnic minorities, including the Burmese.
Other barriers to successful re-settlement include lack of access to transportation, healthy food, translation services and language education, and safe housing. Additionally, there are not nearly enough specially trained professionals to help overcome these barriers.
Franciscan Health, through its Community Health Improvement Department, has been intimately involved in an ongoing effort to ease the transition of the Burmese to their new country. A “Burmese Outreach Team” consisting of two Burmese community health and wellness liaisons works to identify vital community services – including health care, language assistance, education preparation and job training – that will help them succeed in their new country.
“We are all about working with community organizations, and with the Burmese population, to identify resources that they can use to make their transition easier,” said Nancy Sui, Burmese community health advocate with Franciscan’s Community Health Improvement Department. “Especially in American healthcare, everything is new to them. Among our priorities is to help them navigate the system, understand health insurance, ensure they receive yearly checkups and can manage their medications.”
Franciscan Health Network physician offices have learned to work with the new visitors to ensure they receive the health services they need.
Franciscan hospital departments will be actively engaged in this program. For example, the Emergency Department will work closely with the Burmese Community Health Worker (BCHW) to identify and follow up with potential candidates for the program. The Women and Children’s Department will work with the BCHW from prenatal care to postpartum care, with its OB Nurse Navigator partnering with the BCHW for community outreach services. Franciscan also has a Burmese Community Health Improvement Advocate who works closely with the BCHW to improve community outreach and strengthen the partnerships with local community organizations and churches.
Clinicians and physicians will work closely with the BCHW. Working Well, a clinic located near Burmese neighborhoods, offers urgent care and immigration-related services for the Burmese community. They will assist in identifying potential patients and providing referrals to the BCHW program. The Franciscan Family Medicine Center is located across the street from the Indianapolis hospital campus and is an established provider for the Burmese community.
“It is personally rewarding for me to work with an organization that recognizes the need our Burmese community has and actively leads the way to provide services that will make a difference in their lives,” said BCHW Biak Tha Sui.
Programs, developed in partnership with local churches, community programs, as well as bedrock Burmese organizations – the Burmese Community Coalition, Hope for Tomorrow and the Chin Center – are geared toward other critical needs such as youth health and fitness, child education readiness and job skills training.
Cigna Foundation Grant
Momentum for strengthening Franciscan’s commitment to the Burmese population strengthened late in 2021. The Franciscan Health Foundation received a $184,190 grant from the Cigna Foundation to strengthen its health improvement outreach efforts for Indianapolis’ Burmese population. The grant funds a Burmese Community Health Worker who provides culturally appropriate one-on-one assistance to help clients them access essential health and human services.
The BCHW provides culturally appropriate one-on-one assistance to the Burmese in their own language as they learn English. She will conduct home visits to support individuals in managing their own health and help them follow their provider’s recommendations for healthy lifestyle changes to include disease prevention and providing referrals to community-based resources.
While the Burmese initiative is still young, a recent community event sponsored by Franciscan and Anthem health insurance, indicates the need for assistance is high. A Back-to-School event featuring a giveaway of backpacks and school supplies for children ages 5 years to adolescents ran out of supplies (70 back packs for elementary students and 130 for middle school and high school students), plus one bag of rice and oil for each family, within the first half hour.
The Burmese Outreach Team also has coordinated two COVID clinics and a general immunization clinic this year. The clinics served both children and adults and were held at the Chin Community of Indiana Center (CCI).