Abstract: Mental Health Needs and Healthcare Access Among Venezuelan Immigrants in Central Florida (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Mental Health Needs and Healthcare Access Among Venezuelan Immigrants in Central Florida

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Independence BR G, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Tracy Wharton, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL
Andres Cubillo-Novella, PhD, Researcher, Pontificia Javeriana University, Bogota, Colombia
Matthew Abrams, BS, Medical Student, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL
Gilarys Garcia, BSW, Social Work Student, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL
Heather Peralta, PhD, RN, Faculty, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL
Background and Purpose: Venezuela is in a profound economic crisis resulting in food and health services scarcity. Migration has become the only option for many Venezuelans. Current estimates indicate more than 4 million have fled the country. Approximately 248,000 have arrived in Central Florida, a majority of whom are professionals with higher education. Most have entered on tourist or work visas, though some have gained legal status through asylum requests, and many have arrived without any official documentation. The majority of Venezuelan immigrants arriving are families who had enough resources to purchase plane tickets or apply for visas. Nonetheless, after arriving, their resources are quickly exhausted, and they suffer many mental health risks as identified by the WHO for other immigrant groups such as trauma, human rights violations, and loss of social networks.

This study seeks to fill the gap in what is known about the unique needs of this population, how health and mental health service providers can meet their needs, and what social workers should know about them.

Methods: This was an international collaboration. Four focus groups were held (N=41). Participants were recruited by word of mouth through community gatekeepers. Due to participants’ vulnerability, sign-up process and informed consent were conducted by the research partner from Colombia, so no identifiable information would be retained in the U.S. Groups were guided by structured questions about experiences with health and mental health before, during, and after their migration from Venezuela. Focus groups were recorded and data was transcribed in Bogotá. De-identified data was shared with US partners. Focus groups aimed to include participants’ perspective about mental health needs in social, family and individual contexts. Transcriptions were coded using Dedoose, and observational notes and bracketing were considered when identifying themes.

Findings: Participants were primarily families who had privilege and wealth in Venezuela. Although the majority of participants had higher educational levels, few spoke English. This presented a perceptual barrier to achieving their goals from the immigration process. Participants did not necessarily support the capitalist ideal of the U.S., but saw opportunity to regain wealth and social status. Participants came primarily for political or economic reasons. They consistently mentioned fear for their children, issues of safety, lack of access to medical care, and food scarcity. Several expressed concern for the well-being of older adults who had stayed behind. Participants view themselves as unique from other Hispanic groups and want providers to be aware of Venezuela’s unique social history. Participants shared they were largely unaware of mental health services and had limited healthcare options.

Conclusions: Social networks were critical to resilience, and definitions of family were broadened once they moved to the U.S, now including friends, in particular, other immigrants from Venezuela. Participants noted referrals for care in the U.S. tend to face language and culture barriers, even if they can afford care. Education for providers about the range of cultures across the Spanish speaking world would support culturally responsive care.