Success with CHWs: Mental Health Services

Meet Fatumo Abduladir

Successful self-starter, pioneer and dedicated community health advocate describe Community Health Worker Fatumo Abduladir. Two years ago, while visiting her sister in St. Cloud, she spotted a job announcement for a brand new community health worker (CHW) position at CentraCare Health System. “I loved the role and knew it would be a great fit for me,” said Fatumo. She was offered the position and made St. Cloud her new home.

Fatumo arrived in the United States in 1994 as a refugee along with her parents who were both educated in Somalia. They lived in Virginia and then moved to Ohio where she studied psychology and communications at Ohio State University. Following graduation, she worked as an employment counselor. After being hired by CentraCare, Fatumo completed the CHW certificate program at South Central College, Mankato.

CentraCare Health is an integrated health system in central Minnesota comprised of three hospitals, four senior care facilities, nearly a dozen clinics, and numerous specialty care services. Over the last two years, Fatumo has worked to overcome barriers to care experienced by St. Cloud area Somali refugee families. “Community members contact me with their needs and questions. They know and trust me.”

Most new arrivals from Somalia have limited or no English language proficiency. Many refugees did not have the opportunity to complete or even attend school, so they cannot read Somali. Families often lack transportation to get to clinic appointments and some do not have health coverage. Adjusting to life in the United States can be very challenging and that includes how to navigate our complicated health care system.

“I know my families, their needs, and their phone numbers,” Fatumo explains. “You name it—whatever they need, I help them,” Fatumo says.

This can range from scheduling appointments to connecting them to services to helping them understand how to refill prescriptions in order to avoid a gap in their treatment.

She has led work to improve and streamline the refugee physical exam process in the clinic, including development of electronic templates in the medical record and coordination of appointments making the process more efficient for families and providers. Fatumo is proud of the improvements in the refugee screening process that address cultural needs and save time for families as well as clinicians. Visits are scheduled in advance so that the male providers will see the men and boys and the female providers will see the women and girls. Families come to the clinic on the same day for their laboratory work and then visit their providers.

She has provided health education for Somali-speaking pregnant women, diabetics, and parents of young children. For example, as a team member, she works with pregnant Somali women with gestational diabetes. She accompanies the women to their prenatal appointments and also teaches them how to test their blood sugar.

Fatumo helped successfully implement developmental screening for Somali infants and toddlers, where no screening was done previously, enabling early referral to Early Childhood Education resources that assist in early diagnosis of developmental problems including autism. She also helped plan and carry out Somali community forums with CentraCare physicians on a number of important health topics such as well child care and developmental screening, immunizations and autism, and well woman care.

Fatumo has provided informal education to the staff of CentraCare Pediatrics and Obstetrics/Gynecology departments on the Somali culture, language, and the refugee history. This valuable background has strengthened the team’s cultural competence in order to better serve their Somali patients.

She has built strong relationships with a number of departments at CentraCare as well as local public health nurses and the VOLAGs. In demonstrating the effectiveness of the CHW role, she has helped them understand and appreciate its value to patients, the clinic, local public health, community-based social service agencies, and the community.

According to CentraCare Pediatrician Marilyn Peitso, MD, “This successful CHW experience has led health system leaders to consider how to best expand the CHW program to incorporate more CHW’s across the health system where language and cultural barriers exist.”

Being a CHW and working in the health field has inspired Fatumo to become a registered nurse. Moving forward in her health career, she’s excited about building her knowledge and skills to serve her community and other underserved populations. “I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to serve as a CHW. I come to work every day knowing that I make a difference. I will always advocate for the CHW role because it’s important to have CHWs in the healthcare system.”

Republished from Refugee Health Quarterly, Vol. 12, July 2014, with the permission of the Minnesota Department of Health.

Related to: CHW Profiles, Resources

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