Aurora health campaign aims to help immigrants, refugees

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AURORA | The city of Aurora has partnered with other area health agencies to launch a campaign aimed to improve the wellness of immigrants and refugees living in Aurora.

The Office of International and Immigrant Affairs and Tri-County Health Department last week at the Aurora History Museum launched “Health Powers Life.” The campaign encourages healthy living to help improve the quality of life of Aurora immigrants and refugees — many of who do not have access to regular health services. The plan addresses annual medical checkups, healthy eating, exercise, rest and balance.

“Aurora today is the only city in the state of Colorado and one of the few cities in the United States that has a formal plan addressing immigrant integration,” said Mayor Steve Hogan April 7 at the campaign launch.

Part of that plan includes addressing health needs, and increasing health awareness and education. Campaign organizers and officials pointed out that not everybody has access to necessary health services, particularly the city’s immigrants and refugees.

One of five people in Aurora were born outside the United States — a statistic that made Aurora one of six cities in the U.S. to earn a Cultural Diversity Award last month from the National League of Cities.  Citing a study by the Wilder Foundataion, city officials and campaign organizers say immigrant populations can be dealing with anything from poverty, trauma and other issues caused by the stress of migration and resettlement, all of which can affect health.

Along with physical health, the plan addresses awareness and prevention of mental illness, too. The first step is to reduce the stigma and open conversation so people feel comfortable to talk about mental illness, said Dr. John Douglas, executive director of the Tri-County Health Department.

“We would like to normalize the concept that your behavioral health, your mental health is a key aspect of your overall health and well-being,” Douglas said.

Although the campaign can not solve every issue instantly, awareness can help where money is lacking, Douglas added. In addition to services, the campaign promotes exercise, healthy meals, a good night’s rest and reduced stress as ways to prevent a hospital trip.

“This campaign is not going to fix that. Hopefully it will, as part of … other efforts, draw attention to it. We want legislators who serve Aurora to be aware of this campaign,” Douglas said.

Annual checkups, however, are encouraged by the city, with the Tri-County Health Department offering information and resources for enrolling in health care or help with Medicaid.

For those unable to access a medical facility, there is Community Research Education Awareness Results, a grassroots company that brings health services to those in need. CREA Results operates from a van that offers health education, and more simple care like testing blood and checking weight and height, while educating people on their blood pressure reading and understanding health issues like obesity, said the CEO of CREA, Fernando Pineda-Reyes.

The mobile unit will come to people and help the best they can, which includes giving a new pillowcase to a child with asthma or checking a home for lead. Sometimes they can only help by lending an ear, Pineda-Reyes said.

“Without partnerships it’s nothing but a van,” said Pineda-Reyes. “I am not a clinic. I need the clinical staff. We will take care of driving it, moving there, liabilities and things like that, but we really need (more partners.)”

More is expected to come, depending on those partnerships Pineda-Reyes said.

CREA will be available at multiple events in Aurora, including Global Fest Aug. 19.

Other campaign goals include reducing obesity by educating the community on healthier eating habits and helping to eliminate food, like high-sugar beverages, prevalent in many diets.

Opiate overdose prevention is another part of the campaign, due to an alarming growth of addiction and overdose in Aurora, both with prescription opiates and more recently, heroin according to Douglas.

Douglas said partners like Aurora Health were adding overdose prevention in place of the Arapahoe House, who recently announced that detox facilities were no longer a service they can provide.

“This is about awareness and education, so I think we can start making the difference,” said Ricardo Gambetta, manager of Aurora’s Office of International and Immigrant Affairs. “This is a long-term campaign, so let’s see what happens.”