Washington State accepts thousands of refugees each year, ranking 9th in the nation according to U.S. immigration statistics in 2012. • Courtesy Photo
Washington State accepts thousands of refugees each year, ranking 9th in the nation according to U.S. immigration statistics in 2012. • Courtesy Photo

Lutheran Community Services Northwest, together with Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) and Harborview Medical Center’s International Medicine Clinic (IMC) received a $319,000 grant to form a coalition between health workers, physicians, and lawyers to provide treatment and care for survivors of torture.

Administered by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, the grant offers the necessary funding for the newly formed Northwest Health and Human Rights (NWHHR) project, to provide a three-pronged approach to torture survivor support through medical consultation, mental health treatment and legal social services. Since its establishment last year, the NWHHR project has helped improve the health and well-being of hundreds of torture survivors in the region with plans to extend their service throughout the state of Washington.

Beth Farmer, the Principal Investigator of the coalition and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker for the International Counseling and Community Services (ICCS) program at Lutheran Community Services Northwest, directs the coalition and assists with the mental health branch of the NWHHR project. This past year, she received the 2012 Community Health Leaders Award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for her work with refugees and survivors of torture.

“The majority of our clients face many challenges when they come to the United States,” said Farmer. “They have to learn a new language and navigate complex government systems, all while coping with their traumatic experiences. It is extremely common for survivors of torture to suffer depression or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

Lutheran Community Services has been working to address the mental health and adjustment needs of refugees for over 20 years by offering bicultural and bilingual mental health services. The ICCS program provides trauma treatment, individual counseling, case management, psychiatric medication and management, support groups and other services to those affected by war, oppression, torture and persecution. Through their regional consultations, ICCS has made innovations in mental health screening for recent refugee arrivals that has filled a critical gap in the refugee resettlement process.

NWIRP, the legal branch of the coalition, provides the only comprehensive immigration legal services to low-income immigrants, refugees and victims of torture in Washington State. They conduct in-depth asylum intakes and provide informed legal services through direct representation or referrals.

Dr. J. Carey Jackson, Medical Director of the IMC, oversees the medical branch and serves as a liaison to other related resources at Harborview Medical Center. He received the 2013 Internist of the Year Award from the Washington Chapter of the American College of Physicians for years of work in refugee communities.

“This grant enables us to deliver the in-depth, holistic support necessary for refugees and victims of torture,” said Dr. Jackson. “It allows us to focus on torture in a manner not previously available to our clinic. In addition to providing primary care, we can now offer evaluations for patients outside of our clinic system, address the legal needs of asylees and refer patients to our partners for mental health assessments on an as-needed basis.”

Since 1982, the IMC has received waves of new immigrants, aided in their acculturation and adapted its own register to cater to the unique geographic and historic set of issues specific to each patient. With one of the nation’s largest interpreter services departments, Harborview has a staff that speaks 20 languages, and contracts for an additional 60 languages. It is also home to one of the nation’s first cultural mediation programs, which has been in place for 18 years.

In addition, the clinic offers alternative healing services, such as acupuncture and massage, for immigrants and refugees unaccustomed to Western healing methods. As a subsidiary to a world-renowned Level 1 adult and pediatric trauma center, the clinic also refers patients to Harborview’s specialists in trauma, rehabilitation, and related care.

In observance of United Nations’ Human Rights Day, the NWHHR project partners reflects on their accomplishments this past year and the increasing demand for their services in the coming years.

“We are beginning to educate trainees and providers in the broader region, said Dr. Jackson. “Through educational talks and resources, we are putting torture and its sequelae on the radar of other specialty providers.”

This is especially timely, as the U.S. will receive an estimated 70,000 refugees this year.

Washington State accepts thousands of refugees each year, ranking 9th in the nation according to U.S. immigration statistics in 2012. Many refugees are survivors of torture from war-torn countries such as Burma, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia. In addition, many victims of torture seek asylum and have no other access to medical, mental health, or legal aid. Over half of the refugees that relocate to Washington resettle throughout King County; others live just outside Seattle city limits.

As the coalition evolves, it will provide training to educate nurses, physicians, mental health professionals, and lawyers in cultural competency and torture. Eventually, it will forge additional partnerships with and support from similar support programs for torture victims nationwide, fostering a globally-oriented service corps dedicated to supporting the growing number of refugees and immigrants in the United States.

Article compiled by Northwest Health and Human Rights Project.

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