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NYC community health centers focus on migrant health

A network of New York City community health centers is in the crossfire of the city’s migrant crisis.

Ryan Health is a system of primary health centers working with asylum-seekers since they began arriving in April 2022. Since then, the city has cared for more than 101,000 migrants while the Ryan Health network has worked with around 5,000 migrants.

Daniel Pichinson, executive director of the Ryan/Chelsea-Clinton Primary Care Center, did not realize the extent of the migrant crisis when their work began. He said it has put strain on the services Ryan Health provides and costs to the facilities.

“The visits take much longer than previously,” Pichinson observed. “That makes us able to do less visits, which in turn leads to less revenue. Also is that with one center, our translation costs are 250% higher than they were last year.”

He added there is little capacity to see new patients, although they are not turning people away. In the past fiscal year, New York City’s Mayor Eric Adams said the city spent almost $1.5 billion caring for migrants, adding in the next three years, the figure could swell to $12 billion without federal assistance.

With migrants going to all corners of the globe, diseases common in their countries of origin are going with them. A 2022 study found 4% of migrants from Central and South America going to Europe had Chagas’ disease.

Dr. Christian Olivo, a primary care physician at Ryan Health, said with no medical history to confirm, treatment can be more challenging, which is why they test for multiple infections, such as tuberculosis.

“A lot of these patients have something called latent tuberculosis,” Olivo explained. “That means they have the bacteria inside of them, however, they do not have the active disease. So, most of the time they don’t know that they are carrying that disease.”

He pointed out based on a person’s country of origin, doctors can determine what the most common infectious diseases are and begin screening people for those illnesses.

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