[Skip to Content]

Public health messages target refugees in Syracuse


Patient navigator Kamal Gautam records public health messages in Nepalese in Upstate‘s Educational Communications department, where videos are being produced for refugees.

Some of Syracuse‘s newest residents arrive not speaking English and unfamiliar with American customs. They are refugees from Iraq, Bhutan and Burma who need jobs, places to live and medical care.

In this new world, some refugees have to learn the concept of scheduled doctor appointments and follow-up visits, and they have to navigate a health care system that includes laboratories for blood work and pharmacies for prescriptions.

“This is a big adjustment for them,” says Peter Cronkright, MD, an associate professor of medicine at Upstate who provides care to a variety of immigrants. “We really have to look at every step in our delivery-of-care system and see what we can do to best accommodate them, and also our staff, so it is a positive experience.”

Using a grant from the Central New York Community Foundation, Cronkright is making patient education videos with the help of bilingual refugees who have medical or social work backgrounds. Those refugees become volunteer “navigators.” Staff from Upstate‘s Educational Communications department are producing the videos.

Listen to Peter Cronkright MD's interview on Health Link on Air radio,

airing at 9 a.m. Aug. 14 on WSYR FM-107.9


Peter Cronkright MD

Cronkright says he is learning from the refugees about the best way to convey a variety of public health messages. The first video focuses on latent tuberculosis, when someone tests positive for TB but shows no symptoms of illness.

“What I didn‘t realize until talking to the navigators is that the refugees see TB as a very sick thing, a disease that often is a killer,” Cronkright says. “When we do the skin test and it‘s positive, they don‘t think that they have TB because they only know of one type, and that‘s the very ill type.

“So, we‘re educating as to what does it mean by that positive skin test? That when that occurs, they‘re not contagious to others, but it‘s important to take the medication so that if they get sick down the road, the TB doesn‘t show its face. Basically, the medications will eliminate it from the body.”

Additional videos will focus on immunizations, diabetes – and what foods can boost levels of vitamin B12.

Working with the refugees in Syracuse can have a ripple effect around the world.

Cronkright says over the past year, doctors discovered low levels of vitamin B12 among Bhutanese refugees at Upstate – as did researchers at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Now researchers are trying to explain the deficiency, and Cronkright, with the navigators, is crafting an educational message about B12 supplementation.

“Now they are studying the Bhutanese in Nepal, where they‘re in refugee camps, to see what might be the cause,” Cronkright says. “That‘s the neat thing about care here. It often can be transferred back to helping out the refugees who are in camps over in their countries of origin.”

Listen to Cronkright's interview.