As crises around the globe make headlines, migration to Massachusetts has been increasing for years. In 2020, Massachusetts General Hospital launched the Center for Immigrant Health (CIH) to improve the health and well-being of immigrant patients and staff across all Mass General departments and clinical sites.
The CIH connects patients living throughout Greater Boston with caregivers at Mass General. In partnership with community organizations, the MGB Community Care Van and MGH Chelsea HealthCare Center, the CIH brings clinical care directly to migrants who have been placed in shelters in Chelsea, Everett and Revere, with special focuses on addressing chronic medical conditions, connecting pregnant women with obstetric care and ensuring children are up to date on vaccines so they can enroll in school.
The CIH is led by three dedicated physicians: Director Fiona Danaher, MD, MPH (Pediatrics), and Associate Directors Rashmi Jasrasaria, MD (Internal Medicine), and Rahel Bosson, MD (Psychiatry). This leadership team helps unify the program across clinical care, education, advocacy and research so that providers can address the multifaceted health challenges faced by this patient population.
“Many of the people and families arriving in our commonwealth have been unsafe or in transit for a very long time, so their care can be complex,” says Dr. Danaher. “It can be distressing when patients arrive in an unfamiliar clinical setting with a combination of untreated medical conditions, significant trauma and resource needs. But it has been incredibly gratifying to see how the hospital community has stepped up.”
Resource navigation is essential. Two community health workers (CHWs), Marcia Burgos and Betty Descilien, help with concrete needs, from sourcing basics like food, clothing and shelter, to helping families enroll in MassHealth, fill prescriptions that they may have gone without for months or connect with legal resources to navigate the immigration process.
“One of the most important things I do is to educate internally across the system on how to work with this population,” says Marcia Burgos, a CHW who’s been at the center since its creation. “It takes empathy to understand the challenges they face.”
This fall, the CIH launched a nutrition and lifestyle education program for Spanish-speaking patients because moving to the U.S. often involves a significant change in lifestyle and diet, which can increase the risk for diabetes and hypertension. And in collaboration with Mass General’s Disparities Research Unit, the CIH is developing a CHW-led mental health program to provide linguistically and culturally concordant care for the state’s newest arrivals.