Dr. Asqual Getaneh outside the ICHS clinic in the International District • Photo courtesy of ICHS

Asqual Getaneh, MD, an expert with a background in research addressing minority health, has joined International Community Health Services (ICHS) as the new medical director. While Dr. Getaneh describes a strong connection to Ethiopia as her place of birth, she also has a special fondness for the Pacific Northwest.

It was here that Dr. Getaneh was first “hit by a bug for the outdoors” while a medical student at the University of Washington. This sparked Dr. Getaneh’s passion for hiking – and led to a dream vacation in Patagonia. Dr. Getaneh and her family have lived in various places in Africa, Asia and the United States and she describes travel as “coming quite naturally.” She is looking forward to becoming reacquainted with the area’s natural beauty and outdoor attractions.

ICHS CEO Teresita Batayola and ICHS chief medical director Rayburn Lewis see Dr. Getaneh’s return to Seattle as an opportunity to improve health care access for local immigrants, refugees and minorities.
“Dr. Getaneh’s background in global and community health, combined with research and success improving health outcomes among minority and underserved populations will strengthen ICHS’s capacity to connect area residents to language accessible and culturally sensitive health services.” said Batayola. “Her appointment reflects ICHS’s ongoing work to build greater health equity. I’m pleased to welcome her back to Seattle as we welcome her to ICHS.”

“I look forward to Dr. Getaneh’s impact as ICHS continues to add health services and grow capacity to reflect the area’s changing needs. Through her past work and research, she has insight, in particular, that will allow us to better evaluate and meet the needs of King County’s emerging East African and Latino populations,” said Lewis. “She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in working with diverse communities.”

Dr. Getaneh recently shared her thoughts on building healthier people and communities as the King County area becomes increasingly multicultural and diverse.

What made you decide to join ICHS as medical director?
Asqual Getaneh: I have been interested in community health systems and I was working for a community health system in Washington, D.C., so ICHS is not a huge leap in terms of career or service or interests. It’s more of a continuum. I thought that I would be able to use my experience to a greater degree with ICHS and its visionary leadership and committed staff than my current position.

What do you hope to help ICHS accomplish?
AG: My role is to support the team of health care workers and the entire infrastructure in the care of patients. How we take care of patients has evolved from one-on-one between the patient and doctor to a team of people taking care of individuals, families and communities. ICHS’s vision goes beyond creating healthy individuals, to include thriving families, empowered communities and a just society. That doesn’t happen without teamwork – a team of individuals who each bring their own expertise and experiences and individual narratives.

What role do community health centers play in providing health services? Why are they important?
AG: Community health centers are by nature, located within the community. They are within neighborhoods. Folks that work in community health centers tend to look like the communities they serve. They’re more accessible to patients and have a better understanding of social, economic and cultural contexts that might impact health. They take these factors into mind when counseling and treating people.

Individuals that may not have access to a hospital or other clinics can simply come into a community health center – not only for primary health care, but to be evaluated if they require a specialty service. ICHS welcomes all people, regardless of ability to pay or insurance status.

What are some barriers that recent immigrants or refugees might experience in accessing health care?
AG: The first barrier may be not knowing about community health centers. They just don’t have any idea that there may be a health center that can provide them language support – that can provide them with affordable care. The second barrier might be that if they don’t come from a country that provided primary health care. They may not think that they need it and they may just say, “I don’t feel unwell, I feel fine so I don’t really need to go for a checkup.” And then the third may be they may feel too intimidated to demand care or to voice their needs.

The current political climate is leading to immigrants not wanting to engage with any organization, even organizations that could help them. Families that need care for their children, immunizations for their children, asthma care for their children or health care for themselves may forego it because they’re afraid it would make them targets for deportation. That is a real fear that puts them at risk for illnesses that are avoidable as preventable conditions. It puts them at risk, in some cases, of dying of untreated medical conditions.

Health care information is confidential. We as health care workers will not divulge information to any entity, government or otherwise, without a clear consent from patients.

Anything to add?
AG: I want community members to think of ICHS as an important partner in their health care. They are invited to help shape us as much as we hope to shape their health and wellbeing – which means letting us know what they want to see and what we should change. The ICHS Patient Advisory Board is a great way to be involved in this.
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As medical director, Asqual Getaneh, MD, oversees medical staff to ensure the continuous delivery of high quality, high impact care at ICHS’s eight medical clinics, located in Seattle, Bellevue and Shoreline. Prior to her position with ICHS, Dr. Getaneh served as a medical director of a health center at Unity Health Care, the largest community health system in Washington, D.C. Dr. Getaneh has a medical degree and masters of public health from the University of Washington.

For more information about ICHS go to www.ichs.com.

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