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Staying healthy in a new homeland
By Connie Grosch / June 25, 2015 /   Loading Disqus...

The Center for Southeast Asians (CSEA) serves Rhode Islanders from many cultures, but its clients have at least one thing in common: navigating the state’s new Obamacare health exchange can be challenging.

That’s why we’re partnering with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island to give CSEA the resources to provide education, outreach, and enrollment assistance to the almost 20,000 Cambodians, Laotians, Hmong and others who call Rhode Island home.

“Reducing disparities in health care will go a long way to ensuring all Rhode Islanders can live healthy lives. Partners like the Center help us connect with diverse communities, and that will pay dividends over time in lowering health care costs and improving outcomes,” says Yvette Mendez, our grant-maker for the Health sector.

At the recent Lao New Year festival on the grounds of the Buddhist temple in Smithfield, CSEA staffers man a table where they distribute t-shirts, tote bags, lip balm, pens and notebooks bearing their logo and contact information. Many festival goers stop to inquire about the Center’s services; some ask specifically about the Affordable Care Act.  

While data suggest that the Asian population in Rhode Island generally do have access to health care, barriers may still exist. For instance, many Southeast Asians do not visit a doctor regularly for preventative care. “They see a doctor only when they get sick,” says CSEA program coordinator Stacey Phommatheth. Recognizing that physical and mental well-being is an important determinant of overall quality of life, we see tremendous responsibility and opportunity in spreading the word about new federal reforms in health care.

With the help of CSEA navigators trained by HealthSource RI, Southeast Asian individuals and business owners are able to compare insurance options, purchase individual plans, and determine if they qualify for cost-reducing tax credits. “It’s difficult for many of them to navigate the health exchange website without adequate language skills,” says Phommatheth, one of those trained navigators. “There is so much information. I take as much time as necessary to make them understand and feel comfortable enough to make the right decisions about their health care.”

With access to preventative care, wellness services, and chronic disease management, more members of the Southeast Asian community will visit a family doctor for regular checkups, vaccinations, and other screenings that will benefit their overall health.

Southeast Asians are active participants in the social, civic, and political life of Rhode Island and the Center is a welcoming, vibrant and trusted resource. It serves as the hub of a comprehensive network of social services: income tax assistance, citizenship and ESL classes, voter registration, interpreter and translation services. “We don’t just do it for them,” says Phommatheth. “We teach them, so they can learn to do things on their own and ultimately feel more independent.”

We will continue to support CSEA as they work to preserve their traditions and cultures, as they plan for a future that promotes the health and economic prosperity that ultimately enriches our communities.

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