Atrium Health East Charlotte Family Physicians

Primary Care, Family Health | one year ago

Refugees Find Compassion and Care in their New Medical Home at Atrium Health

Six years ago, Atrium Health East Charlotte Family Physicians agreed to accept an influx of new patients—refugees fleeing war-torn Syria, where they had endured unimaginable conditions with limited access to healthcare. That first group ranged in age from infants to senior citizens, many dealing with long-neglected medical issues. The practice’s growing reputation for welcoming and treating them with the dignity they deserve has led to more refugees finding a home with this caring group of providers.

Imagine living in a war-torn country where everyday life is in complete disarray and many of your medical needs go unmet. Those who leave the chaos and confusion of their homeland, wait in evacuation camps to receive clearance from the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program before arriving in a new city, such as Charlotte, NC, to start their lives over again. In addition to learning English and looking for a job, an important part of getting settled for these refugees is catching up on their healthcare needs.

The Syrian Refugee Resettlement Organization, Catholic Charities and other area refugee agencies have come to rely on Karen Daniels-Mitchell, MD, Katie Trigonis, MD, and Matee Sackie, NP, of Atrium Health East Charlotte Family Physicians to provide healthcare to a long list of refugees. In the process, these providers have created a warm and welcoming environment where non-English speaking patients, who’ve often fled desperate situations, can feel comfortable and get the medical care they need.

Saying Yes to Refugee Patients

In 2015, the Syrian Refugee Resettlement Organization was preparing for a group of about 50 refugees to arrive in Charlotte, when they reached out to nearby Atrium Health East Charlotte Family Physicians to ask if they would accept the refugees as new patients. According to Dr. Daniels-Mitchell, the practice didn’t hesitate to say yes. “Our whole purpose is to assist patients in an underserved area of Charlotte,” she says. “Taking on these refugees was a natural extension of that.”

The first group of Syrian refugees, which consisted of about 10 multi-generational families, were dealing with common patient medical issues, but they had not been completely treated in their homeland or while in evacuation camps, explains Dr. Daniels-Mitchell. “Their healthcare was a catch-up game. Some things were a little bit out of hand, and we had to get a handle on them to restore their health.”

Breaking Down Barriers and Building Up Trust

Word quickly spread among Charlotte area refugee agencies about the practice’s willingness to treat non-English speaking patients whose healthcare needs had been neglected. Soon Drs. Daniel-Mitchell and Trigonis and nurse practitioner Matee Sackee were treating patients from multiple African, Asian and European countries.

The language barrier is one of the biggest challenges these providers face in providing this population with appropriate healthcare. Their patients speak everything from Spanish and French to languages far less common in the U.S., such as Arabic, Dari, Farci and Karen. Like all Atrium Health care locations, this practice was equipped with an interpretation machine that connects to the Atrium Health Language Access team of over 120 professional medical interpreters via video camera.

With so many patients in need of an interpreter, practice manager Maria Tullo says they decided to put an interpretation machine in every exam room. In the three years since that decision, they’ve logged 2,099 videocalls providing translation services to patients in 36 languages. This has helped the practice build trust among its refugee and international patient population, which improves the overall doctor-patient experience.

“We realize that everything is new to these refugees. Anytime someone is dealing with change, you have to be compassionate and show you care,” adds Matee. “For the patient to be able to see the person who is translating for them, it provides a real sense of comfort to our patients and helps them to better understand our medical instructions.”

Welcoming Yet Another Group of Refugees

When Maria received word that another group of Syrian refugees were arriving in Charlotte this past October, she learned that one among them needed dialysis immediately. She worked with various Atrium Health providers so that on the day he arrived, he was transported directly from the airport to Atrium Health Pineville, where he received treatment and was set up with appropriate aftercare.

Not all patients arrive with such dire needs, but there is still a lot to manage with refugee patients. “At first, they visit our office every week or two because they have so many medical issues that have piled up for years,” says Matee. “As their health improves, the patients come to really trust us as their long-term providers.”

As more groups of refugees arrive in Charlotte, Atrium Health will continue to meet their needs. Atrium Health Primary Care Archdale Family Medicine, opening January 2022 on South Blvd., will also partner with many of these same resettlement organizations to provide a medical home.

To learn more about Atrium Health East Charlotte Family Physicians, visit online.