Center for Refugee & Immigrant Health


The mission for the Jefferson Center for Refugee and Immigrant Health is to achieve equity in healthcare access and health outcomes for newly arrived refugees and immigrants living in the United States.

Our goals are:

  • Deliver compassionate, comprehensive, longitudinal clinical care to refugees, asylees, and immigrants in the greater Philadelphia community.
  • Educate students and resident providers to procure evidence-based care for this socio-medically complex population with cultural humility and collaboration.
  • Conduct research to evaluate and improve the delivery of care to refugees and the larger immigrant population.
  • Advocate for refugees, asylees, and other immigrant populations at the local, state, and federal levels.


Equitable healthcare access and delivery to all individuals, regardless of their country of birth or spoken native language.


The Department of Family and Community Medicine (DFCM) began a collaborative partnership with the Nationalities Service Center (NSC) in 2007 to provide healthcare services to newly arrived refugees in Philadelphia. Dr. Altshuler and his group decided that they would address chronic health conditions and preventive screening in addition to recommended infectious disease screening as part of the domestic medical examination. Over the next few months, Dr. Altshuler and his residents recognized that the need for refugees to access healthcare was greater than they imagined. This experience also provided Jefferson medical students and family medicine residents with a unique learning opportunity to care for this vulnerable population.

In 2008, the DFCM obtained 3 years of HRSA funding to officially expand this pilot into the Jefferson Center for Refugee Health, and Dr. Altshuler was named the Director.  Refugee health became part of the family medicine curriculum, and a model was established so that refugees could become part of the residents’ own continuity practice.  At the same time, the NSC earned national recognition for this unique partnership and was identified as an agency that could handle the most medically complex refugees arriving to the United States.  Additional HRSA funding was obtained in 2011, with a 5-year grant aimed at addressing demographic shifts in underserved populations.  A major component of this grant was aimed at expanding the Jefferson Center for Refugee Health into a true medical home model. 

Under Dr. Altshuler’s leadership, Jefferson’s Center for Refugee Health became the largest healthcare provider serving newly arrived refugees in Philadelphia as well as Pennsylvania.  Due to the increased demand for healthcare access in the refugee community, Dr. Altshuler worked with other academic medical centers in the area to set up additional clinical sites, including Nemours Pediatrics Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Penn Center for Primary Care, Drexel Women’s Care Center, and Albert Einstein Medical Center.  All of these sites are built on the original Jefferson model, where infectious disease, chronic disease, and preventative health are addressed at every visit.  In 2010, the collection of healthcare providers and refugee resettlement agencies formed the  Philadelphia Refugee Health Collaborative.

In addition to clinical expertise, the Jefferson Center for Refugee Health has been a research hub providing a comprehensive refugee health surveillance program, leading to partnerships and cooperative agreement funding from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since 2012.  In 2015, Dr. Altshuler and Jefferson’s Center for Refugee Health achieved the designation as a CDC Center of Excellence in Newcomer Health, working with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), and the Colorado Departments of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and Human Services (CHS). The goal was to create a multistate health surveillance network and to develop best clinical practices for newcomers.  Dr. Altshuler and his colleagues, including Drs. Scott, Deffler and Payton, have presented nationally and internationally including over 80 conference presentations and posters. They have published 25 peer-reviewed publications. The Jefferson Center for Refugee Health has had a great impact on learners of all levels across the country.  They have supported 16 MPH and Health Economics and Outcomes Research Fellows and trained several hundred medical students and residents since 2007.

Despite the success of the Jefferson Center for Refugee Health, the larger immigrant community in Philadelphia continues to experience barriers to equitable healthcare.  Through philanthropy and support from Thomas Jefferson University, Dr. Altshuler embarked on a partnership with the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association Coalition (SEAMAAC) to create the Wyss Wellness Center—a health and wellness center designed to provide clinical care and social services to the immigrant community, regardless of documentation status.  SEAMAAC is one of the oldest and largest refugee-founded agencies serving the Philadelphia area.  In April 2021, the Wyss Wellness Center proudly opened its doors, providing interprofessional evaluation and treatment to over 1,700 patients in its first year, including evaluating more than 50% of the Afghan refugees arriving in Philadelphia under Operation Allies Welcome.  In 2021, Dr. Jessica Deffler was appointed as the founding Medical Director.  Under the leadership of their executive director, Thoai Nguyen, SEAMAAC created a 501c3 organization, SoPhie, which will be transition to the lead agency to manage the Wyss Wellness Center in its application to become a Federally Qualified Health Center.  With the opening of the Wyss Wellness Center, the Jefferson Center for Refugee Health was expanded in 2022 to be named the Jefferson Center for Refugee and Immigrant Health.

Our Team

  • Marc Altshuler, MD:  Director, Jefferson Center for Refugee and Immigrant Health
  • Jessica Deffler, MD:  Medical Director, Wyss Wellness Center
  • Colleen Payton, PhD, MPH:  Research Director, Jefferson Center for Refugee and Immigrant Health
  • Kevin Scott, MD:  Founding Research Director, Jefferson Center for Refugee and Immigrant Health


Community Partners


Selected Media

“For doctors treating Afghan refugees at PHL, the airport is ‘a modern-day Ellis Island’.” (2021, September 13). Philadelphia Inquirer

“Now open at Bok, a new health center for Philly’s immigrant and refugee population.” (2021, April 29). Philadelphia Magazine

“Jefferson rolls out plan for South Philly refugee and immigrant wellness center.” (2019, May 20). Philadelphia Business Journal

“Commentary: A unique Philly partnership offers health care to refugees.” (2017, February 23). Philadelphia Inquirer

“Refugee health clinics help new arrivals, provide training ground for students and residents.” (2017, January 30). AAMC NEWS

“Global reach: Jefferson shares expertise to advance global health.” (2013). Jefferson Alumni Bulletin.

“Providing for the medical and social needs of newly resettled refugees in Philadelphia.” (2011). Collaborative Healthcare: Interprofessional Practice, Education and Evaluation (JCIPE): Vol. 3: Iss. 1, Article 3. 

“Jefferson clinic helps hurting refugees from Iraq and other countries.” (2010, December 13). Philadelphia Inquirer