Rebuilding a Good Life

Pazir* was ripped from the life he knew when the Taliban bombed the Kabul International Airport in Afghanistan on August 26, 2021.

Pazir had spent two years working at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. The day of the bombing, everything changed. Pazir lost a close friend and was himself hospitalized for 25 days.

Pazir grew up in Kabul surrounded by a strong support system of family and friends. At 24 years old, he had already started a small business—a bakery—that had turned into a restaurant. “We used to make homemade, delicious food,” he reminisced. Pazir studied public law and had plans in place to grow and expand his business.

When the Taliban attacked the airport, Pazir fought back. “We fought for the country, we fought for the people. We fought for the commitment that we had to the United States government.” While the rest of this team left the country, Pazir was chosen to as part of a trusted team to stay and help the U.S. Marine Corps as an interpreter. After the Taliban took over, an injured Pazir fled to the States, leaving behind the life he knew and loved. He arrived in Fort Dix in New Jersey and spent time in refugee camps before ending up in Buffalo, NY. He found housing and employment within a few days of arriving in Buffalo, working as a cashier in a grocery store.

But the physical and mental trauma of the attack and his sudden relocation weighed on Pazir. “It’s really hard to leave your home where you grew up; where you made yourself; where you made your career; where you established a good life—like, a really good life.” Torn from his life and career, Pazir struggled with mental health issues as well as physical ones. Despite growing up in a culture where speaking to a psychologist is laden with stigma, Pazir recognized that he needed to seek help. He sought out a counselor at Jewish Family Services of Western New York (JFS), who helped him unpack the trauma that had been plaguing him since the explosion. Together, they worked through his disturbing memories and Pazir rediscovered his goals, vision, and direction in life.

“I was totally lost before engaging in this program. Having a good person—a good counselor—like [in] the program is life-saving, honestly.”

More than a year later, Pazir started working at JFS as an intensive case manager and refugee specialist. He hopes to help other refugees like himself work through trauma and settle into a healthy life in New York.

*Name changed to protect privacy

JFS provides complex medical, psychological, immigration, and legal services to immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers. Under an NYHealth grant, it provided access to mental health services that often fall outside the boundaries of resettlement services. It worked to deliver and connect refugees to emergency mental health services and nonclinical support groups, as well as help them recognize the signs of mental health issues.

Engaging the Residents of Niagara Falls

In this Grantee Spotlight Q&A, NYHealth Program Officer Nupur Chaudhury interviews Brian Archie and Evelyn Harris, Co-Chairs of the Create a Healthier Niagara Falls Collaborative and long-time residents of the community, to discuss their work in North End, Niagara Falls, a Healthy Neighborhoods Fund community.

As the community convener grantee for North End, Niagara Falls, the Collaborative is working to support the health and wellness of residents by improving the local food and built environments. These efforts have included the formation of a Resident Engagement Council, a group of locals who act as peer educators and advocate for the needs of the community in the implementation of food access and built environment projects. Watch the following Q&A segments to learn more.

What is resident engagement? How have you been integrating it into your work in Niagara Falls?

Tell us about the community in Niagara Falls.

What are some projects that are going on in the community?

What would you like to see for the Council and Niagara Falls in the next 5 years?

All Crosswalks Lead to Care

In 2012, NYHealth awarded Southern Tier a grant to help the clinic find a new site.

This unique grant hired an architect to design a space to meet Southern Tier’s needs and help it expand into a 10,000 square foot space, improving the clinic’s ability to serve patients. From this redesign, the clinic was able to increase its number of exam rooms from 10 to 19; add another treatment room; add a care management area space for nurses to conduct disease management and patient education; include space for an outreach/enrollment coordinator; and add a quiet area for behavioral health services.

In a small community of 16,000 people, Southern Tier’s new clinic in the city of Olean was slated to be built in its most commercially occupied part. There was initial concern about the new location because it moved the clinic away from the local hospital. “We were afraid we would be disconnected from the hospital’s services,” said Gail Speedy Mayeaux, Executive Director of Southern Tier. “But in fact, the Olean site could not have been situated in a better place.” Located in the heart of downtown, more patients—especially the vulnerable and the elderly—were able to walk to the clinic, which is now within a one-mile radius of four low-income housing projects, two homeless projects, the county’s sole soup kitchen, a legal services provider for civil action, and a mental health treatment facility. Two main cross streets mark the downtown area of Olean, and all crosswalks lead to the clinic.

A community college is also less than a block away from Southern Tier Community Health Center’s Olean clinic. Its student population includes adults who have returned to school or are older, single mothers. Many of these students are uninsured, and many have acute illness, which causes them to fall behind in class. With its expanded services and new location, the Olean clinic is now able to send its outreach and enrollment coordinator to the college to help these students make health appointments, pay using a sliding fee scale, and apply for Medicaid if eligible. In 2015, Southern Tier helped nearly 100 students apply for Medicaid. Also in 2015, the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) offered Southern Tier a grant opportunity to consider moving to another building closer to the local hospital. Based on patient feedback, however, the current Olean site was overwhelmingly favored because of its walkable and convenient location—and so it remained.

At the end of NYHealth’s grant period to Southern Tier, the clinic had 6,525 patients. As of 2015, the clinic has reported 8,684 patients and more than 31,000 visits – a 33% growth in patients served.

Note: Southern Tier Community Health Center has been renamed Universal Primary Care.