CGI U 2013 at Washington University in St. Louis

Promoting Women’s Health Within the Immigrant and Refugee Community of St. Louis

Rachel Smidt, Kate Clitheroe, Melissa Weiss, and Krista Woodward, graduate students at the Brown School

Rachel Smidt, Kate Clitheroe, Melissa Weiss, and Krista Woodward, graduate students at the Brown School

Kate Clitheroe, Rachel Smidt and Krista Woodward are all first-year graduate students at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis who recognize women’s health as a global issue.

The trio, along with Melissa Weiss, who is pursuing a joint MSW/JD through Brown and the School of Law, know it is a local issue as well. With the passage of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) last spring, they came up with one practical solution to make a difference: Help the immigrant and refugee community of St. Louis fully access the provisions of the ACA.

“Research has shown that women are the key to creating educational and economic environments that can lift communities out of poverty,” Smidt says. “We were looking for a practical, concrete solution to help.”

The idea is to connect immigrant and refugee women in St. Louis with preventative health resources made newly available by the ACA — resources that have the potential to improve the health of the immigrant and refugee population. But language and education barriers often prevent these services from being accessed. By working with local agencies that are well-respected within the immigrant and refugee community as well as the community members themselves, the project will emphasize a completely community-based approach to better health.

The group wants to form partnerships within the community. “We want it to be community-based, with immigrants themselves helping to inform of us of their needs,” Smidt says.

While the U.S. government offers some transition services, they are limited in scope and often do not address the root causes of negative health problems. Furthermore, navigating the complexities of the U.S. healthcare system and being introduced to western medicine poses additional barriers

The group hopes that by focusing on a health literacy initiative, one of the most basic obstacles to women’s health — the ability to access available services — will be eliminated.”

“Our group wants to turn the mission behind the ACA into a reality in the St. Louis community,” Woodward says. “By engaging the immigrant and refugee population of St. Louis and collaborating with CGIU representatives and local organizations, we believe that we can help this marginalized population gain access to the health care they need and deserve.”

“It’s important to recognize that proving access to healthcare services is simply the first step” Clitheroe says. “The next step is to assure that these services are accessible to all populations, especially those who face added barriers. This is exactly what we aim to do.”