CSEA aims to improve health outcomes for Southeast Asian elders in Rhode Island

Primarily settled in the U.S. in the 1970s as refugees, Southeast Asian Americans (SEAA) are comprised of Vietnamese, Hmong, Khmer, Cham, Iu Mien, Khmer Kampuchea Krom, Khmu, Lao, Montagnards and Taidam.1 While caregiving for family members is a cultural norm for this population, a survey conducted by the Diverse Elders Coalition found that 51% of respondents indicated they were the only person available to provide care, and 22.7% confirmed feelings of isolation due to caregiving.

Health outcomes

SEAAs are disproportionately diagnosed with hepatitis B, cervical cancer, depression, PTSD and anxiety.2 These diagnoses are attributed to traumatic experiences with war and resettlement, low socioeconomic status and language barriers. While limited English proficiency rates are around 45% for the SEAA community, that rate is approximately 90% for SEAA elders.1 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, many SEAA elders live in households with no fluent English speakers.3 This language barrier prevents SEAA elders from understanding their care options, communicating their needs and receiving the care they need.

SEAA elders are two times as likely to live in poverty when compared to all elder ethnic groups in the U.S. A lack of financial means makes transportation to medical appointments, sufficient nutrition and adequate medication a challenge – exacerbating negative health outcomes.

Elder Advancement Program

As of 2021, over 9,000 SEAAs live in Rhode Island.4 To improve the well-being of SEAA elders and their family caregivers, the Center for Southeast Asians (CSEA) has taken on the mission of promoting the prosperity, heritage and leadership of SEAAs in Rhode Island.5 Committed to helping people live healthier lives, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Rhode Island has invested $60,000 in CSEA’s Elder Advancement Program (EAP). This program aims to help SEAA elders in Rhode Island improve their health knowledge and overcome access barriers to primary care. The program additionally provides resources for family engagement support, healthy nutrition, language support and physical activity improvement.

Given that SEA elders often experience isolation, the program offers cultural social activities including field trips to SEA restaurants and farmer’s markets. To measure the impact of the program on social drivers of health (SDOH), program staff will collect information from participants regarding SDOH factors at intake and discharge along with detailed demographic information. Designed to reach underserved SEA elders, the program utilizes a Community Health Specialist (CHS) culturally and linguistically matched to the population to reach out to temples, farmer’s markets and community centers to engage them in the program.

Community Health Specialists

The CHS will help participants articulate their needs, motivate change and foster connections in the community to improve long-term health outcomes, economic stability and well-being. The CHS will additionally provide linguistically appropriate educational materials regarding prevalent health concerns in the SEA elder community.  Research shows that CHS’s are well-positioned to advocate for their patients and help address SDOH given their similar background and lived experiences.6

“We are pleased to partner with UnitedHealthcare to offer our Southeast Asian Elder Advancement Program,” said CSEA Executive Director Channavy Chhay. “Thanks to this generous funding opportunity, our often-isolated elders are able to enhance independence, community connection, and cultural preservation. SEA-EAP strives to embrace the SEA culture and tradition of respecting and honoring our elderly by supporting them with comprehensive wraparound services of family engagement support, healthy nutrition, language support, and weekly physical activities/exercise to help promote independence, community connection, and healthy living.”

Learn more about UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Rhode Island’s dedication to reducing health inequities and advocating for cultural and linguistic resources integrated into primary care. 

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