Since the mid-1970s, large numbers of refugees have been resettled in the Philadelphia region. Currently, three local resettlement agencies – Nationalities Service Center, HIAS Pennsylvania, and Bethany Christian Services – are resettling approximately 800 refugees to the region each year.

Refugees typically come from many years of living in refugee camps or urban environments with limited access to health care, food, clean water, and basic hygiene. Many refugees arrive with significant medical conditions including injuries from war, infectious diseases, and unmanaged, chronic health conditions. Refugees also experience emotional trauma resulting from war, displacement and loss of loved ones and status, and are frequently diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions. Eager to begin anew, but struggling with limited English proficiency, refugees need help navigating the health care system.

Medical Escort

In recent years, there has been an increase in the arrival of medically complex cases. Approximately 15% of the refugees resettled in Philadelphia have significant medical conditions that require ongoing specialist care and/or surgery/hospitalization.

Under a protocol established by the US government, refugees should obtain a domestic health screening and orientation to the US health care system within 30 days of arrival in the US. The screening should include immunizations and communicable disease screening as well as an assessment of personal health needs. PRHC clinics follow the screening protocol established by the Pennsylvania Refugee Health Program in accordance with the Office of Refugee Resettlement and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Over the past few years, to ensure that newly arrived refugees have timely access to screenings and ongoing medical care, the resettlement agencies in Philadelphia have partnered with medical practices housed in the region’s university and federally qualified health systems to develop specialized refugee health clinics. Working in partnership with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and the Pennsylvania Refugee Health Program, together, resettlement agencies and medical providers form a strong team, with the experience and skills necessary to effectively manage refugee health services in the region.