State Department officials praise Multnomah County’s care of refugees

July 23, 2012

State Department officials said Friday that Multnomah County’s health care services for refugees should be replicated in every community.

“You are making other states look bad,’’ Assistant Secretary of State Anne C. Richard told Deborah Cockrell, manager of the Mid-County Health Center.

 “That’s our goal,’’ Cockrell said. “To be number 1 out of 50.”

The Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration toured the clinic at 12710 S.E. Division St. as part of a visit arranged by Catholic Charities.

Since the war in Vietnam, the federal government has resettled refugees in the Portland area. Mid-County, the county’s largest primary care clinic, provides medical screening for every refugee arriving in the county. About half stay on as patients at the clinic, which tallied 48,000 total visits a year. The clinic has two staff members who conduct health screenings within 30 days of a refugee arriving.

“Whatever it takes to do it, we do it,’’Cockrell said. To which Richard replied, “Yay!”

All of those screenings are conducted with a translator present who speaks the refugee’s language. Last year, clients spoke more than 60 different languages. A recent arrival was due to deliver twins any day. Others have never had proper medical care and suffered for years with complications from asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes and trauma.

The clinic provides the same primary, dental and behavioral health care that other clients receive.

Richard stopped often to examine the walls of the clinic, which are decorated with artwork by internationally-known immigrants and refugee artists. A pin map in one hallway is dotted with photos illustrating that dozens of clinic employees had themselves immigrated to the United States or had arrived as refugees.

Cockrell told Richard that the client diversity is a recruiting tool for the county to attract doctors and other providers who want to practice international medicine. An immunization chart for instance, showed vaccination names in dozens of languages.

Richard and her staff quizzed the clinic’s refugee program office assistant, Khamphick Keopraseuth, who was born in Laos. Keopraseuth meets every refugee who comes to the clinic. Does she sometimes see them in the grocery store or community?

“Oh yes!’’ Keopraseuth said.
Only a small proportion of the millions of refugees worldwide ever make it to the United States.

As the Assistant Secretary prepared to depart, she spied three teenagers on the sidewalk carrying bags from a resettlement organization. The eldest of three sisters said the three were from Baghdad. They showed their arms which had been scarred by a car bombing and their subsequent flight to the United States.

“Have you gotten what you needed?’’ Richard asked.

“Oh yes!  The young woman said. “We dreamed of living in America and now, we are here.”