More on refugee mental health issues from Pittsburgh

Translation services are going to cost your “welcoming” community a bundle going forward (not to mention the cost itself of mental health treatment for immigrants).

This is another in a series of articles written by reporter Erika Beras and published here at the local NPR station.  We have mentioned previously two of Ms. Beras’s excellent investigative reports, here and here.

From WESA (Pittsburgh’s NPR station).  Emphasis below is mine:

Barbara Murock, Immigrants and International Initiative Manager for Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services. Does your county have such a position?

Pittsburgh was once an immigrant foothold. European and Middle Eastern immigrants and black migrants from the Jim Crow American South built the city into what it is. But when industry began to shutter in the ’70s, people started moving away in droves. And for a long time, people didn’t move in.

It’s only been in the last few years that census numbers have ticked upward. Some of that is young people moving to Pittsburgh from other cities, but it’s also refugees. Several thousand have been resettled here in the last few years by four resettlement agencies, and others move here after being resettled elsewhere.

In some ways it’s a perfect fit: There is ample employment and affordable housing stock. But in some critical ways, it’s not a good fit at all.  [What is the ample employment in Pittsburgh?—ed]

“Pittsburgh is about 20 years behind the rest of the country when it comes to immigrants,” said Barbara Murock, the Immigrants and International Initiative Manager for Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services, a relatively new initiative. “We’re still learning and we’re at a tipping point in terms of having enough immigrants that we need to start developing systems and programs and pathways for people to obtain services that they need.”  [What is that going to cost the taxpayers of the county?—ed]

Those services include everything from having interpreters in a slew of languages in the courts and schools and drug and alcohol treatment centers.

However, making services available is more than just language. For refugees, a lot of what they don’t understand is cultural.

What follows is a section worth reading about how in some cultures it is taboo to seek any mental health treatment.  Note one star of the story has “situational depression.”  I guess that means he has become disenchanted with life in America.  One proposal for reform I’ve mentioned previously is for the resettlement contractors to set aside money (preferably theirs!) for an airfare fund to send refugees back to their home country who are not cutting-it in the US.  Some want to go home but are trapped here in nasty jobs at low wages and can’t afford the airfare.

Federally mandated translation services could bust your city or county budget!

Those services are expensive and not always easily accessible. The cost of an interpreter, even on the phone, can be high. The translation services the center uses averages $5,000 a month. They also use in-person interpreters, staff who speak a variety of languages.


By law, health care providers that receive federal monies such as UPMC have to provide interpreter services, and they do in more than 200 languages. That number is only expected to grow as the number of refugees in the community grows and changes.

Readers should try to find out what translation services are costing your local government.  It isn’t just health care services that must provide an interpreter, but the court system as well.   Even when some refugee has a minor traffic problem and ends up in local court—he or she must have a translator!

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