Most of the people served by RISE (Refugee and Immigrant Self-Empowerment), a nonprofit organization founded in Syracuse and now serving Buffalo, have crossed the world to find a new home in our region. Finding health care is not always easy for refugees and immigrants who face language barriers or the complexities of American health insurance.
That’s why RISE’s care managers have created a community-focused, culturally competent approach that helps clients access the services they need. A 2022 grant from the Health Foundation helped RISE replicate their successful Syracuse care management program in Buffalo.
RISE assists more than 1,800 people every year through multiple direct services including bilingual case management; Medicaid care management and connection to health insurance; English as a second language instruction; and much more. RISE is run by refugees, for refugees, with an executive team comprised of 75 percent former refugees and immigrants, and a board made up of 70 percent former refugees and immigrants.
RISE care managers work with clients who are Medicaid-enrolled and have chronic health conditions to develop a personalized care plan and connect them to primary care and specialized providers. Care managers empower clients by partnering with them to make and attend appointments, coordinate with their doctors, and monitor the progress of their care plans.
But the most important step is the first, according to Zeeshan James, Director of Care Management at RISE—building a trusted connection with the community.
“We know people may feel hesitant to come to our office to seek help, so our care managers are out in the community, building relationships,” said Zeeshan. “We’re visiting our neighborhood places of worship or community centers. This is not a cold call; it’s targeted community outreach.”
RISE connects clients with a care manager that speaks their language and has a deep understanding of their cultural and religious backgrounds.
The care management teams in Buffalo and Syracuse speak a combined 22 languages in addition to English.
This context helps them more effectively serve Buffalo’s vibrant and growing refugee population, most of whom are Afghan, Karen, Burmese, Congolese, Somali, Rohingya, and Burundi.
“Our care managers are from the same community as our clients, offering credibility and understanding to help them overcome the barriers that prevent them from receiving care,” said Zeeshan.
“Our location in downtown Buffalo is a complement to the great work of many other refugee-serving organizations working here,” said Fran Bisceglia, Director of Development at RISE. “Often, people will come to us for a specific issue, but then other needs arise. This community network enables us to put them in touch with other local resources that can help them.”
The RISE team sees the impact of their work every day.
“We had a client who had not been to the doctor in about five years, not once in the U.S.,” said Zeeshan. “We built that trusted relationship with him and helped him find a primary care doctor. That was when he learned he had cancer. But—the good news is the cancer is early stage and he is receiving treatment and doing well. We’re very glad he went to the doctor when he did.”