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A new study looks at how to get Colorado's Muslims on the health-care wagon 

A veiled problem

Since the advent of the Affordable Care Act, Americans have been hearing a lot about communities deemed underserved by our health care system, including children, the poor, the homeless, and those with pre-existing medical conditions. Here's another group you can probably add to the list: Colorado Muslims, including some of those in Colorado Springs.

"Our community is twofold," says Dr. Mohamed Hamdy, an Aurora-based retired professor who is leading a study on the population. "Some are newcomers and some have been residing here for many years. And the differences are very great."

Last year, Hamdy completed a grant-funded pilot study on members of the Colorado Muslim Society, a Denver mosque. The study was done on behalf of the mosque's Medical Reserve Corps, or MRC. MRCs are located nationwide, and are federally directed volunteer groups that focus on improving public health and emergency-response efforts.

After completing and analyzing a survey of 203 members, Hamdy found that there were people of at least 34 nationalities speaking more than 23 languages at the mosque. Of the respondents, 94 percent were recent immigrants, and over 70 percent were low-income.

High-income people tended to have health insurance, and very-low-income people often did too, likely because of Medicaid. The rest, however, often were uninsured.

Worse, even those who were insured said they might avoid seeing a doctor — often because of difficulties with language, or because of cultural barriers. Women, in particular, preferred to see female physicians because of Islamic traditions of modesty.

The findings in the pilot study were interesting enough that Hamdy decided to pursue a statewide study. In January, the mosque's MRC was awarded a $20,000 Medical Reserve Corps Challenge Award from the National Association of County and City Health Officials, in partnership with the Office of the Surgeon General. Over 200 MRC units across the country applied, and the mosque was one of only 29 organizations to receive an award. The study will likely be complete early next year.

Hamdy says he's planning to survey six to eight mosques statewide this time around, likely including Colorado Springs' only mosque, the Islamic Society of Colorado Springs.

Spokesperson Arshad Yousufi says there are probably 20 nationalities represented at the Springs mosque, which is located centrally. He believes most of the members work in high-tech or are students at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and thinks most have insurance, though a survey would provide more insight.

"We are probably a little different from Denver," he says.

Qusair Mohamedbhai, general counsel to the Colorado Muslim Society, says there have long been efforts in Denver to deal with health-care issues. The mosque hosts the 9Health Fair every year, offering basic health screenings — mostly from Muslim doctors — free to the community. When Obamacare came around, the mosque helped scores of its members sign up, often overcoming language barriers.

The Denver mosque also tries to help with basic issues, like nutrition, which is often overlooked by refugees who may have lived with hunger in the past. And they help women find female health providers, while also attempting to warm them to the idea of using male doctors. Says Mohamedbhai: "[We'll] say, 'Look, it's a doctor, so it's OK.'"

stanley@csindy.com

  • A veiled problem

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