Immigrant and Refugee Health

Immigrant and refugee residents may have health needs that differ from U.S.-born residents.

Some arrive from countries with lower quality health care and less of it. Some immigrate from a refugee camp or flee a country torn apart by violence. These residents may need specialized physical or mental health treatment.

Staff at Mid County Health Center come to around the world, and work with clients from across the globe
Staff at Mid County Health Center come to around the world, and work with clients from across the globe

Residents without legal immigration status -- and some legal residents -- cannot usually access government health insurance. Many cannot afford to pay for private health insurance plans. Some may be unfamiliar with health care providers who provide care to undocumented residents or those unable to pay.

These residents are less likely to seek preventive health care. And limited English language skills, compounded by cultural differences, affect the quality of care a person receives.

Below we highlight local providers most familiar with working across language and culture. 

County Services

Primary Care: Multnomah County operates primary care centers and dental clinics, most with on-site pharmacies. County clinics serve low-income residents and those who cannot obtain health insurance. Clinic staff speak a number of languages including Spanish, Russian and Vietnamese. All clinics use in-person and phone interpreters. At some clinics, a majority of clients speak a language other than English. For example:

  • More than 80 percent of clients at La Clinica de Buena Salud in northeast Portland speak Spanish.
  • Mid County Health Center in southeast Portland doubles as the state’s refugee clinic, serving more than 1,000 new residents each year from more than 40 countries.
  • The county’s Communicable Disease Services Clinic provides high-quality tuberculosis care for many recently arrived refugees and immigrants.

Interpreters are always provided free-of-charge.

In compliance with County policy, no one is turned away for inability to pay. 


School-Based HealthMultnomah County operates health clinics located in public schools. As in the county’s primary care clinics, school-based health centers serve the children of low-income residents and those who cannot obtain health insurance. No one is turned away for their inability to pay, in compliance with Multnomah County policies.

Children can visit any location that serves their age group, even if they don’t attend school there. And kids of any age are welcome at high school locations.


Women, Infants and Children: This federally-funded program run through the county Health Department provides mothers with breastfeeding and nutrition education, referrals to family support services and nutritious food benefits. Program staff speak Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, Cantonese, Farsi, Mien and Thai. And the program serves clients in 38 languages through the help of interpreters.


Community Clinics

Rosewood Family Health CenterThis non-profit family practice operates on a sliding scale for residents who cannot obtain the Oregon Health Plan because of immigration status. Office visits cost as little as $25.

Clients come from across the globe, as do many of the staff.

“I have a large number of Spanish-speaking staff, Russian-speaking staff,” says front office supervisor Cheery Walters. “One man who speaks Cantonese, Vietnamese and Mandarin. The receptionist speaks Chuuk.”

Rosewood is the Portland branch of the Yakima Valley Farmworkers Clinic, which has locations in Woodburn, Salem and across southern Washington.  The Portland office offers family and women’s health services and employs a psychiatric nurse.

“The sliding fee is really important,” Walters says. “The other thing is we provide an interpreter. Even if you’re uninsured, we pay for an interpreter.”


Virginia Garcia Memorial Health CenterFor 40 years, this growing network of clinics has served low-income and uninsured residents of Washington and Yamhill counties.

“Our roots are in the Latino community and we’re born out of serving farmworkers,” said executive director Serena Cruz Walsh, “but I want all folks to feel welcome.”

While 65 percent of their clients speak Spanish, Virginia Garcia’s 16 clinics serve patients who speak 75 languages.

“It is everybody’s clinic,” Cruz Walsh said.


Other Resources

Authorized Civil Surgeons: Most primary care physicians don’t provide the medical examination required as part of the green card application. But the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services maintains a list of doctors who do.

HealthReach: This collection of multilingual health materials is curated by the National Institutes of Health. Video, audio and print materials are submitted by agencies across the country to help educate residents who speak a language other than English.

Healthy Roads Media: Like HealthReach, this nonprofit provides health education videos on a number of topics. These videos are available at cost.

EthnoMed: This hospital-sponsored website develops information about the medical and cultural needs of immigrant and refugee patients to help providers better serve their clients. Medical interpreters, health care providers and ethnic community leaders serve as authors and advisers of the site.

ECHO Minnesota: This nonprofit produces videos in a dozen languages on topics from understanding the U.S. healthcare system to obesity, vaccines and breast cancer prevention.