Thanksgiving: UConn Health Cares for Refugees and Immigrants in Need

When refugees from war-torn countries first arrive in the United States, health care is one of their top priorities. For many refugees arriving in Connecticut, that means UConn Immigrant Health, a tripartite entity focused on clinical care, education and advocacy for refugees and other immigrants.

dr Susan Levine leads UConn Immigrant Health and is an Associate Professor of Medicine at UConn Health and serves as Ambulatory Site Director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program at the UConn School of Medicine, where she trains future generations of primary care providers. She teaches residents and medical students about cross-cultural nursing and the unique health needs of refugees and immigrants.

UConn Health's Director of UConn Immigrant Health, Dr.  Susan Levine (UConn Health Photo).
UConn Health’s Director of UConn Immigrant Health, Dr. Susan Levine (UConn Health Photo).

“At the UConn Health Outpatient Pavilion, we care for newly arrived refugees and conduct CDC-mandated refugee health assessments within 30 days of a refugee’s arrival,” she says. “We also offer green card screening and primary care to an incredibly diverse patient population. To date we have seen almost 1,000 immigrants from over 40 countries around the world.”

Doctors like Levine need to have special training and knowledge to take care of this patient population, especially about the latest global diseases, pre-departure treatments abroad and more.

Refugees settling in Connecticut and seen at UConn Health come from a variety of countries including Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Honduras, Guatemala, Somalia and most recently Ukraine.

“Since the spring, we at UConn Health have seen an influx of refugees from the US evacuation of Afghan military personnel, as well as Ukrainians,” says Levine, adding that more refugees are expected to immigrate to Connecticut in the coming months.

UConn Health’s program receives most refugee patient referrals from major resettlement agencies, and patient appointments are typically made with Levine by the immigrants settling in the Farmington area. Each refugee is usually scheduled as a patient at UConn Health through their resettlement agency within a week of arriving in the United States. UConn Health’s program then coordinates the pre-visit blood collection labs, tracks down foreign test records, and secures a personal translator for the clinic visit.

“I really want to recognize the amazing work of some of our employees, Lucy Sokolsky and Jenny Ojeda, who together have been instrumental in coordinating the UConn Immigrant Health Program,” says Levine. “Her dedication, patience and attention to detail are absolutely wonderful. Coordinating these pre-arrival visits is complex and the process can be quite stressful for patients. I am grateful for their help in reassuring patients and facilitating their care.”

With the growing demand for care, Levine has shared her training with colleagues who are becoming increasingly familiar with providing primary care to refugees and immigrants.

“It is truly rewarding to provide health care to such a vulnerable and inspiring population. I’m grateful to be a part of their care and this important transition in their lives,” says Levine.

Levine adds, “That’s what Thanksgiving is about – that’s what UConn is about – and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to help refugees and newly arrived immigrants who are seeking a better life and security in our country and state.”

“This program is fantastic,” said Anne Horbatuck, Chief Operating Officer of UConn Medical Group at UConn Health. “Our thanks go to Dr. Susan Levine and the entire program team for your dedication, hard work and quality care.”

dr Bruce T. Liang, interim CEO of UConn Health, agrees.

“This is an amazing program and service to these patients, UConn Health, the state and the world. We are grateful for the work of the UConn Immigrant Health Program,” says Liang. “My happiest thanks to everyone including these refugees and immigrants in need who are turning to UConn Health as patients for their care.”