Somali Refugees Find Medical Comforts in KC

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A blood pressure cuff is foreign to Zeinab Omar and her four children. There was no health care for them in Somalia -- not during a war that's lasted more than 20 years.

"There were people that were being killed in front of us," Zeinab says.

The widow and her children fled, coming to Kansas City in September as refugees.  Every refugee must receive a full health evaluation within a month and in Kansas City, that happens at Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center. The executive director calls the center a "mini United Nations."

"We make it work just in terms of the languages and the cultural mores," says Hilda Fuentes.

The refugees are checked for infectious diseases and other conditions such as diabetes.  They're introduced to preventive health care.  They have Medicaid coverage, but it's only guaranteed for the first eight months so Fuentes says it's important to help patients become healthier within that period to prevent the need for costlier care and to pave the way for jobs and self-sufficiency.

"They've welcomed me with open arms," Zeinab says.

The numbers can vary widely from month to month, but in October, the health center expects to see 100 new patients who are refugees.

The Omar family was resettled through the Somali Foundation.  Most others, like Salad Hussein Nur and his wife, are resettled through Jewish Vocational Service.

Nur becomes emotional when talking about fleeing Somalia with his wife in 2008, going from country to country in Africa, and then settling in Libya only to be caught up in the civil war there this past year. Nur says he was robbed and kidnapped.

"They took me to a second floor and they threw me from the second floor and injured my back. I broke one of my wrists," he says.

Nur is getting medication for his back pain and for his diabetes.  His wife will be treated for heartburn. He says he's grateful to the United States for giving him and his wife refugee status.

"They took us from a bad place and they gave us another opportunity to do good in our life," Nur says.

Their chance for a healthier life starts at Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center.

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