An ECDC Preferred Communities Program Success Story

A 49-year-old refugee woman who arrived in Omaha, Nebraska, on November 27, 2018, had a severe leg injury that resulted from a previous motorcycle accident in her host country of Thailand. Her Reception and Placement (R&P) case manager assisted her with setting up a health screening and initial doctor appointments to better understand the condition of her leg. However, it became clear the client would need multiple surgeries over the next year in order to make a full recovery. Recognizing the need for continued, intensive, long-term medical assistance, she was referred to the Preferred Communities (PC) program.

During her PC needs assessment, the client disclosed that while in Thailand, she had also gone through a divorce from her husband, leaving her with no financial stability and family tensions. Hurt by their parent’s decision to divorce, some of her children no longer spoke to her. Since her arrival, the client’s situation continued to be challenging as her daughter, and only support system in the U.S., left for a Job Corps program, leaving the client isolated and alone. Moreover, as treatment of her leg continued, she was unable to go to work, provide for herself financially or do basic things such as stand, cook or even take a bath. She was overwhelmed with financial stress and her inability to take care of herself. After listening to her story, it was clear that she would be a good candidate for the PC program and was enrolled on January 31, 2019, under medical, mental health and social adjustment needs.

The PC program began assisting her in social adjustment. Her PC case managers leveraged their partnership with the Intercultural Senior Center (ISC) in Omaha to refer her to the services and programs offered within the organization. As a member of ISC, she was offered transportation to attend educational classes offered at the Center such as English and recreational classes—art, sewing, gardening and exercise classes. To expand her support system, PC case managers also introduced her to members of the Burmese community living in her area. As her neighbors, they provided her with emotional and financial support by bringing her food and helping her with her laundry. To address her mental health needs, she was referred to a treatment center to receive regular care and learn coping mechanisms for stress. In addition, PC case manager helped her with her surgeries, recovery and other related health needs. The program provided intensive coaching on navigating the U.S. health system, education on refilling prescriptions, instruction on managing and attending doctor appointments, assistance with transportation to appointments and referrals to physical therapists who would support her in her recovery. As the client still had many financial needs, the PC program assisted her with applications for affordable housing through the Douglas County Housing and Authority and for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

However, the application process for SSDI and affordable housing are long and complicated, and she needed immediate assistance to pay for her basic needs. To alleviate some of the financial burdens she was facing, REC’s PC program provided emergency assistance to cover a few months of her rent, allowing her to stay in her apartment until she received approval from her applications or was able to make arrangements for an alternative living situation.

Eleven months into the PC program, her SSDI application was approved. With her SSDI she continues receiving Medicaid and receives monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments that she uses to cover her basic needs.  Through her newly established support system in the area, a neighbor offered her a room in their apartment rent free.

As the client is no longer paying for rent, she began saving money, and became financially independent. She regularly attends ESL and citizenship classes at the ISC and has made many friends. She has expanded her support system and relies on her friends, neighbors and community members to assist her with transportation to doctors’ appointments, appointments with her psychiatrist or going grocery shopping. She is now able to manage her mental and medical health care on her own and feels empowered to ask for help within her community when she needs it. She also enjoys being in Omaha surrounded by friends. When her daughter visits during her breaks from the Job Corps, she enjoys reconnecting with her and hearing about what she is learning. The client exited the program as self-sufficient on January 28, 2020, achieving all of her goals and moving from at-risk to thriving in all areas of her progress tracker.