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Mid-City CAN Blog

Nile Sisters helps immigrants access health care

Karibu – it's the Swahili word for welcome.

Rebecca Paida, MPH, CHES – Covered California Certified Enrollment Counselor with Nile Sisters Development Initiative
Rebecca Paida, MPH, CHES – Covered California Certified Enrollment Counselor with Nile Sisters Development Initiative
Karibu Health Project is the mission and the name of the Nile Sisters Development Initiative's effort to assist refugee and immigrants gain access to health care through Medi-Cal and Covered California.

"Refugees, when they come to the United States, they have the first eight months of health insurance covered," said Rebecca Paida, community liaison at Nile Sisters. "Once they are removed from that kind of assistance, they don't know how to pick up where they left off."

Mid-City CAN awarded Nile Sisters a grant to provide culturally sensitive information about Covered California and Medi-Cal to fill that gap, Paida said. The effort is part of The California Endowment's Building Healthy Communities Initiative, a 10-year, $1 billion effort to change the way that health happens in 14 communities in California, including City Heights.

"I'm a [Covered California] Certified Enrollment Counselor myself and it is a lot of information to take in," she said. "You can only imagine how much more difficult it is if a person is not well-versed in the language it is provided in."

The first Mid-City CAN grant was for a six month period that ended in December 2014 and reached more than 200 people. The funding has been renewed for a period from January to June. The group has already surpassed last year's outreach, reaching 334 people in January alone.

Access to a database of City Heights residents as well as increasing the number of Certified Enrollment Counselors from two to six are the main reasons for the increase, Paida said

The group's next step is to add printed material in many languages to door-to-door and phone outreach.

Nile Sisters also is advertising its services with a sign outside its office and accepting walk in appointments, something made possible by having six Covered California Certified Enrollment Counselors available.

The group even created a video to showcase how easy the process of getting enrolled is, she said.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOz6cA9k74k

"What Mid-City CAN has allowed us to do is also generate awareness about Medi-Cal for people that are eligible that may not know that they are eligible," Paida said.

This includes people who are not English speakers.

"We offer services in the language appropriate that they can understand, with our efforts focusing on Swahili, Arabic, Burmese," Paida said. "We added Spanish for good measure."

And if they don't have a speaker of the language in the office, they can turn to constituents, what they call the refugees and immigrants they work with, to add translation help for languages like Haitian Creole.

But a bigger challenge Nile Sisters faces might be getting newcomers to understand why they need health insurance, she said, when some come from countries with different health-care models. Many expect to be able to walk into a hospital or doctor's office and access care when they are sick without having to worry about already having coverage.

"If you don't have insurance we might be able to help you," she said. "You can walk in any time and speak with a certified enrollment counselor."

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