A ‘humbling experience’: Michigan Medicine volunteers help refugees from Afghanistan

March 29, 2022  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,

The organization’s mission is to advance health to serve Michigan and the world. There are times, however, when those from across the world come here to Michigan — where they can reap the benefits of the caring and generosity of Michigan Medicine faculty and staff.

That’s what happened late last month at the Luke Clinic in Detroit, when more than 30 pregnant and new mothers were treated at no cost by staff and volunteers of the clinic, including 17 volunteers from Michigan Medicine. Fifteen of those 17 came from the Department of Family Medicine. 

All patients were refugees from Afghanistan.

“We had physicians, nurses, medical assistants, a maternal fetal specialist, interpreters and administrative staff members volunteer their time,” said Katherine Gold, M.D., M.S.W., M.S., associate professor of family medicine and obstetrics and gynecology. “In the end, we heard some incredible stories of hardships that these women have been through. It was a humbling experience for us all.”

Coming together

The Luke Clinic provides free prenatal, postpartum and infant care through one year of a newborn’s life to any family in the region. It meets twice a month in the city of Detroit and twice a month in Flint. Since its inception, the clinic has seen almost 650 patients.

For the last three years, physicians from the Department of Family Medicine have provided regular staffing for the Luke Clinic, and two of the physicians serve as medical directors at the clinic.

After the political and military unrest in Afghanistan, the clinic’s executive director, Penny Armbruster, reached out to the state of Michigan and refugee agencies to offer the clinic’s services.

That led to the creation of the specialized clinic for Afghan refugees.

At first, the Luke Clinic team wasn’t sure how many patients they would see — though they expected around 10. They ended up treating between 30 and 35 patients that day.

A broad range of care

Each patient who came in received some group education and orientation with the help of a medical interpreter.

Once complete, they underwent an ultrasound, received free lab work (if needed), and eventually saw a physician. All patients needing vitamins or prescription drugs were provided with free medications by the clinic.

“When a patient came in, we immediately paired them up with a volunteer who stayed with them throughout their visit,” Gold said. “That gave them someone consistent who knew their background and could provide a support system in what can be an uncomfortable situation.”

And now that the patients have been seen at the special clinic designed for Afghan refugees, they will be integrated into the regularly scheduled Luke Clinics. That means their care will remain free of charge.

Respecting culture, customs

It’s one thing to provide the right care for patients. It’s even more important to do so in a culturally-appropriate way.

With that in mind, the clinic offered a space to pray and all clinicians were women. The interpreters made it easier as well.

At the end of the day, the volunteers were already thinking ahead to determine what more they could do to help the refugees.

“We learned that many of them didn’t have adequate food or clothing at home,” Gold said. “So we’re hoping to carry out a fundraiser to assess some of their direct needs moving forward.”

For now, though, Gold and the rest of the family medicine volunteers will be able to look back at the powerful day and know that they made an impact on those who needed help.

“We couldn’t have done this without everyone who came out, so I am incredibly proud of our department,” Gold said. “It almost brings me to tears to think about it. To see so many people give up their Saturday in order to make somebody’s life just a little bit better. It was simply incredible.”

The clinic for refugees was recently featured on Fox 2 Detroit. Click here to watch that story.