World Health Day Spotlight- Leslie Olson

By USCRI April 7, 2021

On World Health Day, we celebrate the work of healthcare workers around the world including our colleagues here at USCRI who work tirelessly to ensure our clients are able to easily navigate the country’s health systems and have access to tools and resources as needed.

Meet Leslie Olson, licensed social worker and refugee wellness case manager in the Preferred Communities program at USCRI Des Moines. Leslie has been working at USCRI for 4 years and started her career with us as a practicum student.

Tell us about your job and your day-to-day responsibilities

At USCRI I have been able to bring together my passion for human rights, immigration issues and mental health advocacy. My work at the Des Moines office—though I’m rarely in the office!—includes helping our clients identify and reach holistic wellness goals, navigate complex health systems and build their health literacy. We also provide support and education to medical providers who have questions about working with patients who came as refugees.  In addition, through a partnership with Thriving Families Counselling Services, I provide trauma screening and clinical-level counselling from our familiar and welcoming location. Many people are initially reluctant to talk about past trauma and mental health. My job is to support people taking their first steps on the path to healing themselves and their communities.

What has been the biggest challenge for your program this year or last year?

One of the greatest challenges this year has been that many of the things that are good for mental well-being are physically dangerous during the pandemic. Isolation from social supports is difficult for almost everyone, but it can be life-threatening for people who struggle with depression, suicidality, addiction and other mental health problems. I found myself often having to weigh the risks: Were the client’s risks of continued isolation greater than the physical threat of COVID? It was a decision I weighed every day of the pandemic.

Why is this work important to you?

The work of the Des Moines’ Refugee Wellness program is important because we not only help people learn about the complex medical systems in the United States, we also help them become more familiar with their own bodies and minds. I believe sharing knowledge and the hope that our clients can heal will remain with our participants for the rest of their lives.

USCRI’s Refugee Health Services was established in 2017 to support and develop health and wellness initiatives for refugees. Learn more about our health programs and additional resources at:

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