As newly arrived U.S. immigrants and refugees figure out the basic tools for survival, they have left important support networks – family, friends and community – behind. Not knowing the culture or language is intimidating and isolating.
Fortunately, there are those at International Community Health Services (ICHS) who work to serve as a bridge.
In 2015, Svetlana and Sergey Snigur, philosophy and political science university instructors, moved from their home in the Ukraine to Seattle, Wash., with sons Artem and Arsen. The family won spots in the green card lottery program, which gives just 50,000 people and their families the opportunity to live, work and study in the United States annually.
“It was not an easy transition for me, Sergey, or our sons,” said Svetlana. “Not really knowing anyone in the new country and not speaking English. Our family had no time to relax. Quickly, we had to find jobs, learn the language, sort out school for the children and find our own housing.”
High among the couple’s concerns was making sure they knew how to access affordable health care.
“In Ukraine, medical facilities are sponsored by the state,” said Svetlana. “In America, it is necessary to have medical insurance.”
Friends advised them to contact a Russian-speaking community advocate from ICHS, Aleksandra Poseukova. Using their native language, she helped them understand how their sons, who are now five and 17 years old, qualified for low cost health insurance through WA Apple Health. She helped Sergei and Svetlana sign up for a health plan through the Affordable Care Act that they purchased with a less than a $10 monthly premium.
“But what’s the point of having insurance if it’s not clear how it works,” recalls Svetlana. “I called Aleksandra many times with questions. There are still many incomprehensible terms, formalities and procedures. I am so glad I know I can call her and she can walk us through what we need to know.”
When Sergey got his first job in the United States and needed to fill out benefit forms, he turned to Aleksandra for help with the unfamiliar barrage of paperwork and choices.
“I called the company’s human resources manager and helped Sergey fill out the applications,” she said. “While Sergey understands that under the terms of the Affordable Care Act, he should include Svetlana on his employer-sponsored insurance plan, unfortunately, family’s budget does not cover her $200-a-month premium. Today, Svetlana is uninsured and lives in worry of getting sick or hurt.”
One of the casualties for the uninsured is an interruption in preventative health care. So, part of Aleksandra’s advocacy for the Snigurs included connecting Svetlana with resources that extended her health care beyond what she might receive in an emergency room.
She made sure Svetland knew about and took advantage of free preventative exams through the Breast Cervical Colon Health Program, which offers free breast cancer screenings and mammograms for low income and uninsured women.
“Svetlana gladly agreed and scheduled her first visit with ICHS’ Holly Park Clinic,” said Aleksandra. “She was so happy to see the quality of service and courtesy she received from ICHS’s doctors and staff.”
Since their arrival to the United States, the family has contacted Aleksandra on many issues.
“We know that we can trust Aleksandra to help with whatever challenge we are facing,” said Svetlana. “She makes us feel like we have an extended family here. She is aware of resources and help we would not otherwise know about. If she can’t answer a question, she knows how to find someone who can.”
Svetlana and Sergei work hard to provide for their family. Each member has their own picture of the American dream.
“Both boys are attending schools. Artem brings home straight “A’s.” Arsen is preparing for college and has a part-time job,” said Svetlana. “I’m grateful we have access to health care, and that there’s nothing to stand in the way of our dreams.”