Groups hope to improve health care for children of immigrants

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Though immigrants in Franklin County and across the state have expressed concern with receiving adequate health care in the wake of Alabama’s new immigration law, many pediatricians contend caring for children should be the number one priority, despite documentation status.

For the past six months, the Council on Community Pediatrics has worked to create a group intended to advance health care for immigrant children by establishing a network of pediatricians who have shared similar experiences.

The Immigrant Health Special Interest Group came to fruition in February. Ricky Choi, an Oakland, Calif., pediatrician and chairman of the group, said the idea is to create a set of “best practices” that every pediatrician, regardless of location, can use.

“The truth is that about 25 percent of children in the U.S. are born to immigrant parents,” he said. “We see that in our clinics every day.”

No pediatricians in Franklin County are part of the group so far, but Rebecca Thompson, a nurse practitioner for Lakeshore Pediatrics in Sheffield and Russellville, said she agrees with the group’s premise.

“We see patients if they are present in the office — it would be inhumane not to,” she said. “If they have insurance, we see them, or if they don’t have insurance and they want to pay for the visit, we’ll see them.

“Children can’t help the situation they’re in. In some cases, the parents are actually trying to become citizens — they’re trying to get the paperwork processed.”

Immigrant children are more likely to be uniquely at risk, Choi said.

“They’re more likely to come from a family with a lower income, and that’s across the nation,” he said.

Additionally, immigrant children are more likely to be uninsured, he added.

“What we’ve heard so far from people involved with the group is (there’s a problem) understanding and having the skills to engage people from other cultures,” Choi said. “There are language issues (and) concerns about documentation status.

“I think that for practicing pediatricians, a lot of us are unclear about the resources available for these communities.”

For example, he said, there’s an interpretation service available via telephone, but not all pediatricians are aware of it. By creating the special interest group, though, more doctors will be better equipped to treat immigrant children.

“In talking to pediatricians in Arizona, there’s been a lot of concern about the impact separation of families has on the psychological health of children,” Choi said. “We’re also thinking about how health care reform affects immigrants — that’s also something we want to get into. There are a range of issues that we certainly want to address.”

Hannah Mask can be reached at 256-740-5728 or hannah.mask@TimesDaily.com.

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