Public Release: 

Boston Center for Refugee Health & Human Rights receives $1 million grant to expand services

Boston University Medical Center

BOSTON - Boston Medical Center (BMC) has been awarded a three-year, $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration to support the Boston Center for Refugee Health & Human Rights. Funding will support the Center's Freedom Through Wellness project, which will work to develop novel programs and support medical, behavioral and social services for torture survivors and their families.

"This grant will support our Center's longstanding commitment to treating torture survivors and their families during the process of healing and recovery," said Lin Piwowarczyk, MD, MPH, director of the Center and the grant's principal investigator. "By providing strengths-based, trauma-informed care and services, and in partnership with strategic education and training partners, we're helping torture survivors attend to their health, build effective support networks, and lead productive and meaningful lives."

Previous studies have estimated that approximately 10 to 30 percent of refugees in Western settings are survivors of torture. The Massachusetts Refugee Health Program reports that almost 65,000 refugees first arrived in Massachusetts between 1986 and 2013, with the largest number of refugees coming from East and Southeast Asia, followed by Africa, and then Eastern Europe and Central Asia. From 2011 to 2014, refugees arrived in Massachusetts from 74 different countries of origin.

The Center provides comprehensive care and case management services to torture survivors and their families in the areas of mental health, primary care, obstetric/gynecological care, case management, career development, patient navigation and asylum evaluations. As part of Freedom Through Wellness, Piwowarczyk and her team will gather outcomes data and build critical infrastructure related to new initiatives and programs. For example, they will work with the YOUNG Africa and the Ethiopian Community Mutual Assistance Association, Inc. to better understand issues faced by the Liberian and Ethiopian communities related to mental health literacy and barriers to care.

The Center also will expand its Leadership Skills Academy by incorporating a new program on resilient leadership. The Center staff have developed a seven-week workshop series called "BeWell," intended to help patients better understand best health practices, improve their ability to prevent disease, and maintain good health. Training for healthcare providers on how to identify and care for torture survivors will play a role in the Freedom Through Wellness project.

"We help patients achieve the change they need in their lives, which can have a ripple effect within refugee communities," Piwowarczyk said. "Those who complete our career development and leadership skills training move on to support themselves and their families, become role models for the refugee community, and gain familiarity with the U.S. healthcare system."

The Boston Center for Refugee Health & Human Rights was established in 1998 and has served more than 2,750 patients from 90 countries. The Center has developed a curriculum for refugee healthcare provider trainees, researched prevalent issues affecting refugees and torture survivors, and advocated locally and at the United Nations.

The grant was awarded by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' Administration for Children & Families Administration on Children and Families, Office of Refugee Resettlement.

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