Over the past 20 years, Vermont has seen more than 6,000 refugees resettle here, many of them in Chittenden County. As a health educator with the Northern New England Poison Center and the University of Vermont Medical Center, I often find myself wondering how I would feel if I had to leave this country with my family and resettle in a place with a different language and culture.
Many Vermonters don’t know about the Poison Center and when to call us. They make mistakes with look-a-like products and medication errors (especially around dosing and not taking preventative steps to avoid a poisoning). People don’t often think to call the Poison Center for questions about their medication. For non-English speakers, this can be particularly challenging because of the language barrier. We began working with the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese because they were the largest newly resettled refugee group in Vermont. We wanted to learn about their culture and discover what challenges they face here, specifically when it comes to poisons and medication safety. We began to educate them about medication safety, as well as to increase their awareness about things that can be poisonous.
There was some information that I needed to be aware of before developing educational materials and trainings for the Bhutanese. A large number of older adults cannot read and many speak little or no English. Identifying medicine can be difficult because many cannot read the name of their medicine on the label. This makes it difficult if they need to call the Poison Center.
The Bhutanese, like many Americans, don’t always focus on prevention, instead visiting their doctor only when they feel sick. As an educator, I know the importance of prevention for everyone. We began developing translated poison prevention materials that focus on poison prevention and first aid and invited Bhutanese to attend workshops.
Working with an interpreter, we were able to increase their awareness of the Poison Center and various poisons and show the benefits of prevention. I have volunteers make test calls to the Poison Center using a translated poison scenario. It is always good to practice a skill in order to feel comfortable! The Poison Center has translator services available and it is important for Bhutanese to understand how to make the call so they know what to do in a real poison emergency. During the workshops, we also asked participants to take some prevention steps at home.
These are steps that we encourage all Vermonters to take:
1) Program your phone with the Poison Center phone number: 1-800-222-1222.
2) Place medicine up high and out of reach of children.
3) Place a poison center magnet near your phone.
This Bhutanese program has been successful and the majority of participants in the workshops have taken prevention steps at home to help reduce or prevent future poisonings. I am encouraged by their gratitude and humor. I hope to one day visit their homeland to experience the beauty that reflects in their spirit. I hope all Vermonters will take time to understand the Bhutanese and respect their cultural identity. It is an opportunity for growth and enrichment in all of our lives. It certainly has been a rewarding experience for me.
I challenge everyone reading this to visit us at www.nnepc.org to learn more about this valuable free resource. Knowing what to do and who to call could save your life or the life of someone you know.
Gayle Finkelstein is Vermont Poison Prevention Educator with the Northern New England Poison Center in Community Health Improvement at the University of Vermont Medical Center.