For as long as he can remember, Dr. John Birky has been interested in serving the cross-cultural community. After graduating from residency at the University of Kansas, he sought out a position that would give him 8 weeks off per year to do short-term medical cross-cultural service trips, internationally.
He found a home in Lakin, Kansas. After serving the diverse community in Lakin for four years and taking time off each year to serve internationally, he and his wife realized that Garden City, Kansas – a town of 27,000 people just 20 minutes away from Lakin, was a town of rich diversity where 27 different languages were spoken on a daily basis in its schools.
“In addition to having a large cross-cultural population, Garden City is historically underserved for primary care,” explained, Dr. Birky. “The average American has a hard time finding a doctor – much less immigrants who don’t understand our healthcare system. Many of them were using the ER for everything.”
Dr. Birky wanted to find a better way to serve the diverse population of immigrants and refugees in southwest Kansas, so he and his family moved to Garden City in 2015 with the intention of exploring the best way to meet the healthcare needs of the refugee community.
After meeting with several members of the refugee community, Birky realized that language was one of the primary barriers that stops them from seeking and accessing healthcare services.
“We decided to start a nonprofit organization, New Hope Together, to bridge the gap between refugees in Garden City and healthcare. The organization has 2 components. One is meeting healthcare needs through the New Hope Together clinic and the other is a focus on teaching English,” he said.
To make accessing healthcare as easy as possible for the refugee community, Dr. Birky and his team of volunteer providers opened New Hope Together in a remodeled two-bedroom apartment in an apartment complex where many refugees live.
“We made the living room our waiting room, and created treatment rooms out of the two bedrooms,” he explained. “Right now we offer a walk-in clinic on Saturdays and are open one day a week for follow up appointments. This helps to ensure that refugees are able to keep their immunizations current and provides access to preventative care.”
Dr. Birky has been purposeful about making connections with prospective physicians who have a service mindset. Through networking regionally and building relationships with other like-minded physicians, he has formed a team of providers who share his vision for meeting the needs of the refugee community. The clinic is staffed by a team of 6-8 physicians who donate a few hours each month.
Rather than offering the services free of charge, they charge a small fee on a sliding scale to keep it affordable. “We decided to charge a fee because we’ve found that when the services are free, people don’t value them or see them as reputable. They even feel indebted, somehow,” Birky said. “When we charge a fee, they value it and trust it more. They don’t want a free handout. They are working and earning money, and they want to show appreciation for the medical help they receive. In fact, in our experience, those in the refugee community are quick to pay the bills for the services they receive.”
In addition to offering an access point for culturally sensitive care, New Hope has a literacy component with one-on-one English tutoring. Volunteers meet in a coffee shop or local restaurant, and if they both feel comforable enough, in each other’s homes to teach English.
Dr. Birky is especially excited about this service because it’s not duplicating any services that are already being provided for refugees in Garden City. With language being one of the primary barriers that stops refugees from accessing medical services, New Hope is building cross-cultural bridges and breaking down some of the cultural barriers that are often difficult to see.
Birky wants to encourage medical providers to look beyond the short term service opportunities and seek out ways that we can serve those in need all around us.
“The make-up of the U.S. is different than it was 20 years ago. There has been a big influx of refugees. It’s amazing that there are now 27 different languages spoken in a school system in Garden City, Kansas. We’re in the middle of nowhere! If you’re interested in serving cross culturally, you no longer have to cross a border to do that.”
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