Crush of Burmese Refugees Puts Pressure on Public Health in Allen County

By Jeff Neumeyer

June 18, 2010 Updated Oct 16, 2007 at 6:18 PM EDT

Diversity brings a range of benefits to a community, but Fort Wayne right now is also experiencing the challenges that come with an influx of new refugees from Southeast Asia.

A flood of Burmese exiles is putting pressure on local aid organizations, especially those focusing on health care.

Congressman Mark Souder estimates at least 35-hundred refugees driven from the nation of Myanmar have now settled in Fort Wayne, and he says that may give us the largest Burmese population in the U.S.

It's believed about 40 percent of the refugees come here infected with the tuberculosis bacteria.

They have to be screened and treated to make sure full-blown tuberculosis cases don't develop.

The medical care burden falls primarily on the Allen County Health Department.

Many local foundations and public assistance agencies are also involved.

Deborah McMahan, M.D./FW-AC Health Commissioner: " All working on how can we absorb this, working with the Family and Social Services Administration, to see if we cannot get funding directly for the refugees, but I think what we're going to have to do is start billing Medicaid and billing for our services, so that we can recover the funding."

Dr. McMahan says there is reason to believe the Burmese refugees will continue to flood in here at a higher than normal rate for another year or more.

The federal government plays a role in directing refugees to certain places, but it doesn’t automatically re-imburse local communities for the costs they incur by serving their new residents.

There are multiple reasons why Fort Wayne has become magnet for so many Burmese refugees.

Catholic Charities in Fort Wayne has been a recognized re-settlement agency for thirty years, drawing many political exiles here.

As the U.S. State Department sends more Burmese folks to Fort Wayne, others flock here as well to be near friends and family, so the numbers snowball, and other effects follow along.

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