Multicultural News

Grant money will expand health access in Indianapolis’ Burmese community

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — New grant money aims to help improve health outcomes for the growing Burmese population in Indianapolis.

Franciscan Health says it’s been working with the community for more than 10 years. The new funding will allow for better one-on-one support.

Roughly 25,000 Burmese refugees are living in the Indianapolis area. Nationally, Burmese have some of the highest poverty rates and lowest rates in English proficiency, according to Franciscan Health, and both often factor into medical access. Removing those barriers, organizers hope, will lead to longer and healthier lives.

Burmese refugees started making their way to Indianapolis in large numbers around 10 years ago. Many chose to live on the Indianapolis south side. But coming from Burma, health care wasn’t often a priority or easily accessible.

“Back in Burma, there was not health care. There was not good health care in general. So, there’s no such thing as, you know, a yearly check-up or just in general,” said Burmese community health advocate Nancy Sui.

Sui is from Burma. She said accessing health care can be hard for everyone but particularly the older population.

“There is definitely a language barrier in the community, of course, because a lot of older generations, they do not speak.”

To start off the new year, Franciscan Health received nearly $185,000 to improve health outreach. The money will provide culturally appropriate one-on-one assistance by helping patients access health and human services. Support will also come from Burmese community health workers and other agencies including the Burmese American Community Institute and the Chin Community of Indiana.

“Franciscan Health like lots of Catholic hospitals is really committed to the health of the most vulnerable in all of our communities,” said Kate Hill-Johnson, administrative director of community health improvement at Franciscan Health.

Representatives said the hospital has served the Burmese community since the largest groups of refugees started arrived roughly 10 years ago, and the needs have changed over time.

“Now, we’re looking at those traditional chronic diseases that happen an older age,” Hill-Johnson said.

With the list of refugees seeking asylum, the Burmese population is expected to grow even more. Advocates said now is the time to help strengthen health systems.

Mental health, just like some other communities, remains a taboo topic. In addition to the grant money, Burmese advocates will increase mental health support.