For 15 years, the Sisters of Providence Health System (SPHS) has provided essential health care services to the Vietnamese population in the Greater Springfield area. The Vietnamese Health Project (VHP) began in 1994 when SPHS became the health care provider for many of the City of Springfield’s growing Vietnamese refugee population. The federally sponsored program had been operating under the auspices of a large Springfield-based health care facility and was in the process of being closed due to the elimination of funding by the federal government. In accordance with the mission of the Sisters of Providence Health System, the VHP reflected the SPHS mission of working with those “most in need.” A loss of the VHP in the City would devastate the Vietnamese community. The Sisters of Providence Health System had the courage and conviction to take up the challenge and ownership, both programmatically and financially, of the Vietnamese Health Project. The VHP has been system sponsored by the Sisters of Providence Health System for the past 15 years and has serviced numerous Vietnamese families and individuals through interpretive services, educational programs, case management, access to health insurance and post-enrollment services.
The bilingual/bicultural case managers for the program help caregivers and patients overcome the language and cultural barriers. Case managers take clients to physician appointments and hospital visits. They are definitely well known throughout the community and are frequently called upon to participate in a variety of activities in the Vietnamese community and on public health issues. The long-term commitment of the SPHS to this program and the increased resources to carry out the incredible work of the project reflects the Sisters of Providence Health System’s commitment and core value to “those who are poor.”
Criteria – Reverence for Each Person
The VHP meets the criteria for reverence for each person by assisting those of Vietnamese origin with access to health care that ensures quality care and eliminates disparities. The whole concept of Western medicine is very foreign to many Vietnamese, especially the elders. There is a need to establish trust between the health care system and the Vietnamese community as well as encouraging the clinical provider’s appreciation of the Vietnamese culture. Staff have worked many years with providers to establish a sense of cultural competence and nurture the belief that the refugee population is deserving and capable of understanding a health care system with some social supports, interpretive services and educational guidance.
The Sisters of Providence Health System has been the leading provider of delivery services to Vietnamese mothers for the past 15 years. Approximately 95% of the Vietnamese babies are delivered at the Family Life Center for Maternity at Mercy Medical Center. This service has been steadily increasing over the past 15 years due to the cultural competence of the staff and the inclusive and compassionate environment established by the VHP and the staff of the Family Life Center for Maternity. If the Sisters of Providence Health System’s Vietnamese Health Project did not provide these essential services to the Vietnamese population in Springfield, a lack of prenatal care and subsequent deliveries could result in more severe medical illnesses in the pregnant Vietnamese population with increased utilization of emergency departments and acute care hospitalizations.
The stewardship of the VHP program is the targeted services provided to a specific population and the establishment of the program as a model for refugee health care. The community outreach health worker is a rapidly growing field and is essential in assisting immigrants with health care access. The VHP is certainly a model program and was instituted well before the norm of current community health program initiatives. Current programs at SPHS, such as the Somali Health Project and the Connecting Consumers with Care program, were based on the success of the Vietnamese Health Project. Frequent focus groups and community leaders involvement ensures that the program is meeting the current needs of the population.
Staying abreast of community issues, whether it is a health issue or voting in an election, is part of the VHP. The staff are strong advocates for immigrant health, health access and elimination of health disparities. This is done through education, advocacy with legislatures and attendance at events that are important to the community. A good case in point is the acquisition of the Department of Environmental Protection grant to the Vietnamese Nail Salon Health Project. The purpose of the grant is to assist the nail salon employees with a healthy environment through the development and implementation of culturally appropriate educational and technical assistance. In the Greater Springfield area, there are over 300 nail salons, and Vietnamese individuals own 90% of the salons and certainly the majority of employees are Vietnamese. Potentially dangerous conditions can arise due to poor ventilation and inappropriate chemicals. The VHP is a partner in this grant and will assist with the health education aspect of this program.
Commitment to Those Who Are Poor
Throughout its history, the SPHS has been innovative in its methods for delivering health care to the Vietnamese community. The Vietnamese Health Project has collaborated with many agencies to ensure that the services are delivered to those most in need. Participation in the following organizations has assisted with program goals and identifying needs of the community: Vietnamese American Civic Association; Federally Qualified Community Health Centers; Community Health Access Networks, Department of Public Health, Catholic Charities; Jewish Family Services, Health Care for All, etc. Participating in these community endeavors assures that the VHP is reaching out to those most in need and assists with the growth and potential of the Vietnamese community. The VHP has provided hundreds of services to Vietnamese refugees and immigrants. Most recent data of the past three years, indicated that the VHP has provided over 8,288 case management encounters to Vietnamese families and individuals and has assisted in the case management and delivery of over 172 Vietnamese babies. Total individuals that have participated in the program for the past seven years are 2,048. Staff have also assisted mothers with difficult pregnancies and consoled women who were not able to bring their babies to term.
The VHP has been recognized on several occasions for its innovation and exemplary standards of care. In 2003, Thu Pham, the program coordinator, was recognized by the City of Springfield with the Public Health “Luminary Award” for her work with the Vietnamese population on public health issues. The SPHS has demonstrated courage in taking ownership of the Department of Public Health Program over 15 years ago. First designed as a pilot program, a competing health system announced that it would not be able to maintain the program without the funding. SPHS immediately recognized that the VHP was a viable and valuable community program and courageously took on the financial responsibility of continuing the program. This truly demonstrates the courage to assist those who are in need and also having the courage to assist those whose voice was not heard 15 years ago when someone felt that funding was over and their commitment was ending. SPHS did not follow that road and has established care to hundreds of our deserving Vietnamese immigrants, refugees and citizens of Western Massachusetts.
The Vietnamese Health Project measures program success and effectiveness by the number of encounters, users and follow-up visits with the Vietnamese population of the Greater Springfield area. Program goals are constantly reviewed to ensure that we are meeting the needs of the Vietnamese clients. By adding additional programs and collaborating with other local social service agencies, SPHS has increased our capacity to assist this growing Springfield population.
The following is a list of the most recent program successes and effectiveness as measured over the past three years. Most recent data of 2002 to 2008, resulted in the following:
- 1,200 users accessed services, with the average individual accessing services for translations, educational programs, cultural competency issues and case management support.
- 5,680 case management encounters were documented in 2002,2003 and 2004.
- 596 individuals received translation services in the SPHS acute care setting.
- In the past three years, 335 individuals and families received assistance in acquiring access to state-supported health insurance, Mass Health.
- Over 100 Vietnamese women delivered their babies at the Mercy Family Life Center for Maternity. This accounts for over 90% of the Vietnamese births in this area.
- Staff have participated in over 630 prenatal visits.
- 1,260 individuals were assisted with referrals to acute care services (i.e., lab work, radiology).
- Home visits, designed to assist the Vietnamese individuals who are uncomfortable visiting a health care facility, resulted in 342 encounters.
- Staff had over 416 primary care encounters.
The Sisters of Providence started 140 years ago in Holyoke, MA, primarily meeting the needs of the poor and the immigrants who came to this area to reach a new level of independence and quality of life. For the past 130 years, the mission of SPHS has not changed. The embracement of this refugee population, to ensure quality health care and access to health care, continues to carry on the original SPHS mission. Totally left on its own, without the benefit of government-supported resources, the VHP has had a very rich history of providing services and has established the program as a model for refugee and immigrant health. Clearly, the goals and objectives of the VHP program meet the criteria of being innovative and creative to those most in need. Most admirable, is the courage of the SPHS staff, who surrounded by the financial challenges of maintaining a health care system, chose to support, grow and leave its health care impact with this deserving Vietnamese refugee population.
For more information about the Mercy Vietnamese Health Project, please call 413-748-9065.