Refugee Health Technical Assistance Center

Language Access & Refugee Health

Refugees may speak limited or no English at the time of resettlement in the U.S., which can lead to difficulties in accessing essential health and social services. Language access in health care is particularly important, given the fundamental role that provider-patient communication plays and the reality that ideas of health, wellness and healing are often grounded in culture.

RHTAC has collaborated with the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC) to post resources on language access in health care settings. Among the resources are practical tips on communicating with Limited English Proficient (LEP) refugees. For example, clinicians and other staff in health care settings should be aware that using an interpreter, especially via telephone, can be unfamiliar and strange for recently arrived refugees. Additionally, it may be difficult for a refugee to initially trust and share confidential information with an interpreter. This guide for using over-the-phone interpreters with refugees in health care settings can help promote effective communication.

The RHTAC website also includes an overview and history of language access in the U.S. (laws and policies that support language access), best practices in communicating through an interpreter and frequently asked questions from health care providers about language access.

In the Literature:

Providing linguistically appropriate services to persons with limited English proficiency: a needs and resources investigation

Carter-Pokras, O., O'Neill, M.J., Cheanvechai, V., Menis, M., Fan, T., & Solera, A. (2004). Am J Manag Care, 10, SP29-36.


Language barriers to health care in the United States  

Flores, G. (2006). N Engl J Med, 355(3): 229-31.


Navigating language barriers under difficult circumstances

Schenker, Y., Lo, B., Ettinger, KM, & Fernandez, A. (2008). Ann Intern Med, 149, 264-9. 


More literature resources >

Do You Know About the Affordable Care Act?
The Affordable Care Act is currently being implemented with exciting health care reform provisions scheduled for 2014. The health care reform law will improve health insurance affordability and coverage for refugees. In the coming months, the Affordable Care Act will be featured regularly in RHTAC newsletters and new content on health reform will be available on the RHTAC website. Stay tuned!  Test your knowledge of the Affordable Care Act and how it will affect refugees! 
Upcoming RHTAC Webinars   
Registration Open!

Tools and
Strategies for Refugee Mental Health Screening: Introducing the RHS-15

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM EST  
Presented by: Michael Hollifield, MD, Program for Traumatic Stress, VA Long Beach Healthcare System, PIRE and Pathways to Wellness, Albuquerque, NM and Seattle, WA.  Details: The target audience is mental health providers, clinicians, primary care providers, and refugee health program staff.
Register now >
Refugee Youth and Wellness - Save the Date!
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
12:30 - 1:30 PM EST
Presented by: Bridging Refugee Youth and Children's Services (BRYCS) and RHTAC.
Upcoming Events  

2012 Harvard International Conference on Digital Disease Detection
February 16-17, 2012
Boston, MA

Presented by: HealthMap and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Details: This conference will address how disease and outbreak data are disseminated through informal channels such as social networking sites, blogs, chat rooms, Web searches, local news media and crowdsourcing platforms. These data streams have been credited with decreasing the time between an outbreak and formal recognition of an outbreak, allowing for an expedited response to the public health threat. 

Asian Clinical Tropical Medicine Course

July 21 - August 3, 2012 

Bangkok, Thailand 

Presented by: Georgia Health Sciences University Department of Emergency Medicine. Details: The course consists of lectures, demonstrations, workshops, and clinical rounds in various hospitals in Thailand. Health care providers with experience and/or a special interest in clinical tropical medicine or infectious disease are invited to attend.    

Funding Opportunities   

Health Care Innovation Challenge

Letter of Intent due December 19, 2011. Applications due January 27, 2012. The Health Care Innovation Challenge will award up to $1 billion in grants to applicants who will implement the most compelling new ideas to deliver better health, improved care and lower costs to people enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP, particularly those with the highest health care needs.


Preferred Communities Program 
Due March 1, 2012.
Funding to support the resettlement of newly arriving refugees in Preferred Communities where they have ample opportunities for early employment and sustained economic independence and to address special populations who need intensive case management, culturally and linguistically appropriate linkages, and coordination with other service providers to improve their access to services.  


Ethnic Community Self Help Program

Due March 13, 2012. Funding for ethnic community based and faith-based organizations to strengthen organized ethnic communities comprised and representative of refugee populations to ensure ongoing support and services to refugees within five years after initial resettlement. The populations targeted for services and benefits in the application must represent refugee communities which have arrived in the U.S. within the last five years (no earlier than 2005).    

Standing Announcement for Supplemental Services for Recently Arrived Refugees
Due March 16, 2012. Funding of the Supplemental Services for Recently Arrived Refugees program to provide services to newly arriving refugees or sudden and unexpected large secondary migration of refugees where communities are not sufficiently prepared in terms of linguistic or culturally appropriate services and/or do not have sufficient service capacity. This program is solely in support of newly arriving refugees (i.e. within the last two years) and/or sudden or unexpected secondary migration
Call for Proposals
African Refugees and Immigrant Lives: Conflict, Consequences, and Contributions
Due December 16, 2011.
Ethiopian Community Development Council is issuing a call for workshop proposals for the 18th Annual National Conference to be held May 2 - 4, 2012 in Arlington, VA. Learn more about the session categories and how to apply. For questions,
contact Tessie Ajala, Project Coordinator, at
Call for Papers
Journal of Health Communication - International Perspectives
Advancing Health Literacy Research Special Issue
Due January 20, 2012. The Journal of Health Communication is seeking original manuscripts that present empirical research in the field of Health Literacy. Learn more about submission instructions or  submit your manuscript. For questions,

RHTAC is a project of the Refugee and Immigrant Health Program, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, in collaboration with the Center for Refugee Trauma and Resilience at Children's Hospital Boston, the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, Sauti Yetu Center for African Women, the Cultural Orientation Resource Center at Center for Applied Linguistics, and John Snow Research and Training Institute, Inc.  RHTAC is funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services. Grant #90RB0042.    


For more information, please email

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International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons

The White House Office of the Press Secretary.

This memorandum directs all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons. 


Free Guided Care Training and Tools for ACOs Seeking to be Part of Medicare Shared Savings Program 

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Guided Care is a model of comprehensive primary care in which a registered nurse, co-located in a primary care practice, partners with physicians and other team members to provide coordinated, patient-centered care to patients with chronic conditions. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) developed the Shared Savings Program to improve care quality and reduce costs for Medicare beneficiaries and is now accepting applications for an April 2012 launch as part of the Affordable Care Act. 


State Guides & Manuals Search

Administration for Children and Families.

This is a new searchable database compiled by Child Welfare Information Gateway. The database links to publications created by State agencies that describe their services and provide guidance on child welfare-related topics to both professional and general audiences.


Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children & Families.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) assists low income households in meeting their immediate home energy needs. 


Seasonal Flu Materials for Refugees

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These materials are designed to improve knowledge of seasonal flu in refugee populations and available in 11 languages.


 MDH Refugee Health Lending Library  

Minnesota Department of Public Health. 
This library includes over 180 videos about refugee populations and health issues that are sortable by language and topic.


Webinar Archives    

Clinical Care to Refugees with HIV Infection 

November 30, 2011


Domestic Refugee Health Screening Models and Clinical Guidelines

October 26, 2011


Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Refugees in Primary Care Settings

July 27, 2011


HIV and Refugee Resettlement  

June 23, 2011

Suicide Among Refugees: Understanding the Social and Cultural Context for Prevention Strategies

May 17, 2011