Immigrant and Refugee Health Programs (IRHP)

These programs ensure the well-being of immigrants and refugees by providing culturally responsive health care, assisting with the integration of children and their families into schools, and improving the cultural competence of physicians.

Chelsea is home to refugees from Bosnia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Central Africa, and countries in Central America – refugees who have experienced trauma, witnessed violence and war, were born and/or lived in refugee camps with limited resources, and had very limited health care access and educational support. Given their refugee experience, refugees may arrive in the U.S. with a range of health or psychosocial needs, from uncorrected dental or eye problems to the serious consequences of torture or malnutrition. As a designated refugee health assessment site, MGH Chelsea provides comprehensive health assessments for newly-arriving refugees and persons seeking asylum to identify the health and social services that the refugees need. This program receives funding by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. 

The Refugee Women’s Health Access Program (RWHAP) began in 2009 to respond to the unique needs of women refugees resulting from their cultural and religious beliefs; their experience of war and violence, poverty, and illiteracy; and the stress of resettlement. An RWHAP study found several gaps in services for female refugees, including inadequate access to primary, preventive, and reproductive health care; lack of knowledge and skills around health promotion and chronic disease management; and differences in cultural and religious beliefs. A program model was then developed, incorporating a comprehensive, four-step process:

• Gathering patient information to assess their access to care as well as barriers to care
• Developing a personalize patient follow-up plan
• Implementing the plan, including patient education, referral, and follow-up
• Coordinated communication among patients, providers, and other professionals

The Refugee School Program (RSP) was established to bridge the cultural and academic gaps for newly arrived refugees. RSP orients new refugees from African and Middle Eastern countries on academic expectations while teaching social skills to ensure positive interactions with school personnel. The coordinator works to empower refugee parents to be academic advocates for their children and motivates students to successfully complete high school and attend post-secondary schools. The coordinator also links families to the MGH Chelsea HealthCare Center to help meet the family’s health needs.  

Bridging the Gap is a partnership between MGH Chelsea and Harvard and Tufts Medical Schools in which medical students are paired with immigrant or refugee families.  Students support families in recognizing and addressing simple health-related needs, and act as advocates, educators, mentors, and friends for their family. Medical students gain invaluable experience by learning firsthand about the cultural barriers that limit health care access for immigrant and refugee families.


In 2013,

  • 268 adult patients were served from Bhutan (27%), Eritrea (15%), Iraq (14%), Somalia (8%), Congo (7%), Haiti (5%), Burundi (4%) and Ethiopia (3%).
  • 93 new refugee patients had a scheduled RHS visit.  Of those, 32% were within 30 days of arrival. Challenges were experienced with our scheduling system, refugee patients and the referring resettlement agencies during the reporting period.
  • There were 238 contacts with 175 refugee women related to care coordination, navigation, concrete services, home visits and other services. 64% of activities involved care coordination, 38% consult with providers, and 32% telephone calls with patients. Six monthly education groups (119 total participants) focused on the importance of primary care, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle were conducted for women from Iraq, Bhutan, Somalia, Congo and Burundi.

Luz Betancourt

Phone: 617 887-3789