Katerina Tackles an Impossible Feat for Refugees in Need of Care

Farah El-Jayyousi & Mary McQuilkin

Farah is a Missouri-based volunteer with Team Rubicon who served as an interpreter on Operation Hermes, and Mary is a public health nurse practitioner passionate about improving access to primary care for underserved populations.

Picture this: an unremarkable government office on an uneventful Thursday in December. Can you see the two fake decorative plants? The slightly torn paper signs taped to the glass that are only ever read out of sheer boredom? And right behind the glass there, those are two exhausted, overworked government employees who would rather be anywhere but here. We’ve all been here before.

IDs are handed over. Names and dates and details are checked and double-checked. Two pieces of paper are signed. And, with little fanfare on this unremarkable day in this sleepy government office, something incredible has happened. Two medically vulnerable refugees now have the same access to the Greek healthcare system as any Greek citizen through something called an AMKA number – a feat we all thought impossible.

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Katerina is a Greek nurse serving as a volunteer with Team Rubicon at the medical clinic on Operation Hermes.

AMKA is a social health services number that is needed for an individual to access the Greek nationalized healthcare system. Only refugees who are pregnant or are considered vulnerable due to chronic diseases, special needs, or disabilities are eligible to obtain an AMKA number. Like Greek citizens, individuals holding an AMKA number can get free medications, lab tests, or imaging studies at a public hospital or public health center. Despite having the legal right to an AMKA number, very few, if any refugees in northern Greece have been granted one. The complex process is a labyrinth of politics and bureaucracy coupled with an economic crisis that is already straining the overburdened national healthcare system.

Katerina providing patient care and levity to a young child.
Katerina providing patient care and levity to a young child.

The seemingly insurmountable obstacles were overcome thanks to Katerina, a Greek nurse and Team Rubicon volunteer at the clinic. Katerina has worked at the TR clinic five days a week since early October. After working with a Greek lawyer and spending hours making phone calls and gathering information about the process, Katerina drove one of our most medically vulnerable families to a KEP Citizen Service Center office to apply for AMKA, similar to a social security number. She was able to use her language skills, local connections, patience, and perseverance to advocate for our residents in this process.

Katerina recently achieved the impossible by getting AMKA numbers for some of our most vulnerable residents, but it only represents a small piece of the incredible work she does day in and day out. She is someone who always seems to be running from somewhere, always out of breath, and always with a laugh and a smile ready at hand. She is the person who will wait for hours in a stuffy hospital waiting room just to make sure an unwilling teenager gets seen by the right doctor for ten minutes and then gently and patiently guide them to the imaging department despite their protests and refusal to go anywhere near another ultrasound.

The team presented Katerina with a TR sweatshirt as a small token of appreciation for her invaluable service.
The team presented Katerina with a TR sweatshirt as a small token of appreciation for her invaluable service.

Katerina consistently goes above and beyond what would be expected, offering patients rides in her own car when transportation fails, making phone calls to local specialists for hours to help refugees access health services, and regularly scheduling all specialty appointments for residents being referred by Team Rubicon medical providers. In between scheduling appointments, translating medical documents from Greek to English, and entertaining the occasional toddler that wanders into the clinic, Katerina tackled an enormous task to help the community of residents we serve, and it couldn’t have been accomplished by anyone else.

Katerina embodies the spirit of Team Rubicon – taking initiative, finding creative solutions with fewer resources, and committing to the hard routine to ensure those we serve receive the best possible care. We’re grateful for her involvement and are always recruiting like-minded individuals to join the team. Interested in volunteering with TR? Start here.