Potter ’24 examines maternal health services for refugee mothers in Utica – News

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As part of a project funded by the Kirkland Endowment Advisory Committee, Aliana Potter ’24 spent the summer conducting research in Utica focusing on maternal health services for refugee mothers. She talks about the importance of her research and how she hopes it will make a difference.

The United States has some of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world. Hearing these statistics over and over again in my sociology of health and illness and health systems classes opened my eyes to the incompetence and inefficiency of our country when it comes to maternal health. I decided that I wanted to know more.

The Kirkland Endowment Advisory Committee funds student-led projects each summer that “support the needs and interests of women in Hamilton.” As an interdisciplinary concentrator in public health, I chose to study health inequalities. I had also worked with Professor Herm Lehman in the Department of Biology last spring on preliminary research and had been exposed to the diversity of the Utica refugee community. With these principles in mind, I wrote a proposal focused on the quality of Utica’s maternal health services for refugee mothers.

The goal of Hamilton’s Interdisciplinary Concentration is to give students the flexibility to craft a program of study that matches their interests and goals.

Antenatal and postpartum care is critical to maternal and infant health, and without appropriate services to meet the needs of the mother, the health of our population will suffer. A group particularly at risk during pregnancy is that of refugee mothers. These women often have language barriers, smaller support systems, minimal understanding of the US healthcare system, and are used to a different model of maternal care. I wanted to understand how they adapt given their situation.

I reached out to dozens of healthcare providers in the Utica area with a series of 14 questions aimed at better understanding the services their respective practices offered to refugee patients. Questions I asked included, “Does your practice conduct outreach to refugee communities?” and “Do you think Utica has made any changes to accommodate the high number of refugee patients entering the healthcare system?”

I analyzed patterns and trends from these interviews and determined that there were both themes of success and areas in need of improvement. For example, respondents suggested a greater emphasis on community support groups due to rising rates of postpartum depression among refugee mothers. Another participant highlighted the strong cultural competency training of their practices that they hoped to share with other clinics in Utica. Yet other participants noted that their current electronic records management system does not translate into the dialects commonly spoken by a patient.

Utica is currently building a new hospital downtown, and I hope to work with my contacts to implement some of our recommendations into the work of new hospital employees. I also intend to present my findings at Utica and allow various clinics to learn from each other and hopefully improve their care for refugee mothers.

Major: Interdisciplinary Studies in Public Health
Hometown: Concord, Mass.
High School: Concord-Carlisle High School

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