In order to fully understand a person’s experience with healthcare in the United States you have to know their personal background and the culture that they are a part of. For Lia Lee, it is a complicated situation in many ways. Lia Lee was born in the United States but her parents were Hmong immigrants. When she began to have seizures attributed to epilepsy her parents were forced into the unfamiliar American healthcare system. There was a constant struggle between her parents and the doctors treating her condition. Why was this the case? According to Janelle Taylor, the Hmong people are “unwilling to bend to the will of others who are more powerful than themselves. (Taylor, 2003)” It is important to look back at the history of the Hmong people and their involvement in the proxy wars in Laos to understand why. The Hmong, under threat of assimilation, were forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in other countries. It was hard for the Hmong to trust outsiders because wherever they turned they risked losing their cultural identity. When the Lee’s came to the United States there was a similar feeling of distrust. This distrust led them to make decisions based on their cultural identity and question the authority of the American doctors. For Lia Lee, her family history and their distrust for others may have been worse for her than the epilepsy itself. Could this situation have been prevented or at least turned out differently for Lia? Taylor also proposes this question and mentions many recommendations to improve the experiences for refugees in the United States. Taylor suggest many options such as combining the traditional healing practices of one culture with the biomedical treatments they would receive in the U.S (Taylor, 2003). By doing so you would be able to treat a patient with all of the available resources and at the same time make the patient and family feel more comfortable. Additionally, Taylor mentions hiring interpreters as permanent members of the hospital staff (Taylor, 2003). These interpreters would have to be fluent in both the language and culture of those that they are providing the service. An interpreter would allow a physician to focus on the treatment of a patient while navigating cultural barriers. These recommendations would not only benefit refugees, but the growing number of immigrants and United States citizens of different cultures. “If we fix the healthcare system for refugees- make it understandable and accessible- we fix it for everyone. (McNeely, 2016)” This is the ultimate goal, to have a public healthcare system that is beneficial for everyone.
Clea A McNeely, “The Health of the Newest Americans: How US Public Health Systems Can Support Syrian Refugees” American Journal of Public Health. 2016 January: 106(1) 13-15, accessed August 10, 2016.