"Sarah," an older refugee woman, had escaped war in Syria and found safety in Louisville, Ky. But she arrived with physical and mental health challenges that required an array of prescription medications and near-weekly appointments. Speaking no English, unable to read or write in her native Arabic, and lost within the U.S. health care system, Sarah and her husband were overwhelmed. These barriers complicated her treatment plan and caused her to miss appointments with specialists, setting her back months and exacerbating her condition.
Enter Evolent Refugee Care Specialist Paige Kolok. A social worker, Paige is passionate about helping people find their way in a new country. After meeting Sarah, her husband and an interpreter at a refugee resettlement center, Paige was determined to help this couple overcome these obstacles and better manage Sarah’s care plan.
Paige’s life experiences are dramatically different than those of her patients, but she knows what it feels like to be uprooted and need to adapt quickly to a foreign place. A decade earlier as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, she had worked in agricultural development in rural Niger. Over two years she learned the local language and customs, becoming part of the fabric of the community.
Paige had once thought she might pursue a long-term career overseas in humanitarian aid. But she realized there were opportunities to make a similar impact in her home country. "When I came home from the Peace Corps I realized that’s not where I saw myself long term. I wanted to find work here where I could help people become who they end up becoming."
Her experiences as a stranger in a new land drove a passion for working with refugees—like the Syrian couple who sat next to her.
Paige came up with a straightforward-yet-effective solution: a paper calendar to track Sarah's appointments and medications. She also instructed all providers, pharmacists and staff involved in Sarah's care to add appointments directly to this calendar. She added her own personal contact information, as well as contact information for all providers and pharmacies, in case they had questions. The calendar allowed the various care teams to help coordinate her appointments and view the larger picture of Sarah's care.
Every Friday, Paige and an interpreter met in person with the refugee couple. Calendar in hand, they discussed Sarah's appointments for the upcoming week and arranged transportation to ensure she didn’t miss them.
"She didn’t have to worry about all her appointments in coming months," Paige says. "All she had to worry about was what was going to happen next week."
Paige’s passion and persistence undoubtedly helped improve the woman’s health and quality of life by empowering her and her husband to navigate their complex situation. It also benefited other refugees she has worked with. Paige has used the calendar approach with several others to help them overcome language and literacy barriers.
Paige marvels at refugees' capacity to adapt to new surroundings. Many come to the country with little more than a bag of clothes, but they build new lives for themselves. Within a year some have found jobs and their own homes.
"I love these clients. I love the strength that they have. I love seeing them be successful here."