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Lori Trahan delivers $5 million to Lowell Health Center to support refugees, HIV testing

Lori Trahan delivers $5 million to Lowell Health Center to support refugees, HIV testing

By: Melanie Gilbert

LOWELL — Two major grants totaling nearly $5 million in federal funding from the Department of Health and Human Services were awarded to the Lowell Community Health Center during an event attended by U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan on Thursday.

The congresswoman has been on a whirlwind tour delivering much-needed resources to programs and providers throughout the 3rd District, such as a $2.5 million water-testing pilot for UMass Lowell and announcing $37 million in home heating assistance for low-income households in the commonwealth.

Trahan took a tour of the Jackson Street facility before presenting the check to the LCHC leadership and care teams of the two community-based programs funded by the grants. One program will focus resources and supportive services on refugee survivors of torture, while the other will roll out rapid response and testing in the field for HIV.

One $2.4 million grant, over a five-year term of $475,000 annually, will support LCHC’s “Passage to Healing” program, and will serve as many as 325 (200 primary, and 125 secondary) survivors of torture, including Bhutanese, Burmese, Cambodian, Congolese, Iraqi, Laotian, Ugandan, Vietnamese, Haitian, Afghani and other refugees.

Chief Executive Officer Susan West Levine said the HHS funding will provide additional direct patient services at the Metta Health Center to any person who has been displaced by violence. The center focuses on Lowell’s Southeast Asian and other refugee populations.

“We think our Metta Health Center and refugee program and services is really what a community health center is all about,” she explained to Trahan during the tour. “Metta exists to respond to what the community needs.”

Funding local health care centers that meet the needs of diverse and underserved populations is crucial, Trahan responded.

“It’s so helpful to know that there are people that we can go to in our community who have all the tools to get our refugees and others the help they need,” she said. “I get all the credit and accolades, but you’re only as good as your team.”

Dr. Robert Marlin, chief of the Metta Health Center, said the grant provides a continuum of care to address critical needs over a longer period of time.

“The grant for torture survivors will give us the ability to offer more services,” he said. “We practice holistic care and whole-person care, and to do that we need more than what’s already here.”

Marlin said the funding will help refugees build a healthy, stable and successful life in their new home.

“With the grant, through the partnerships we have, we’ll be able to provide employment services to make sure people know how to get jobs,” Marlin said. “We’re going to have a full-time immigration attorney to help people apply for asylum.”

A significant number of LCHC staff are former refugees, and Marlin said the grant money will allow them “to bring in a consultant to help our staff deal with the secondary trauma” of doing the intensive, client-facing work.

The goal of the “Partners in Prevention” grant, which provides $500,000 per year over a five-year period, will be to reduce the transmission of HIV through rapid testing and response outreach.

Senior Director of Clinical Systems and Support Karen Peugh will oversee the prevention and screening team. She said her people are ready to hit the streets.

“It’s a significant investment in our community and our program,” Peugh said. “It’s all about rapid response and rapid testing in the field for HIV. It’s something that we haven’t had access to, and it’s really a gamechanger. This grant will allow the team to provide some sustainable services over the next five years for our community.”

During the tour of the bright and airy clinical services floor, which featured exam rooms filled with equipment, Trahan met Refugee Health Services Manager Toy Vongpheth. Every refugee meets Vongpheth, Levine said, “and she helps our new arrivals feel like this can be their home.”

Vongpheth put her hands together in a form of prayer and quietly thanked Trahan for the funding.

“Thank you for getting us the supports we need for our community to share with these people,” she said.