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Loyola faculty member helps provide mental health services to asylum seekers in Baltimore

Noaf Bazaz and Nicholas Cuneo stand outside the Esperanza Center in Baltimore
Noaf Bazaz, Ph.D., and Nicholas Cuneo, M.D., MPH, stand outside the Esperanza Center in Baltimore

Ten years ago, Nouf Bazaz, Ph.D., met Nicholas Cuneo, M.D., MPH, when they both worked at a refugee resettlement agency in Baltimore. They went their separate ways but reconnected when they both joined the faculty of higher education institutions back in Baltimore.

In November 2021, Bazaz, assistant clinical professor of school counseling at Loyola, and Cuneo, assistant professor of pediatrics at The Johns Hopkins University, co-founded the HEAL Refugee Health & Asylum Collaborative to help asylum seekers coming to the United States.

The collaborative is the first of its kind in Baltimore, Maryland, and one of only a few asylum clinics across the U.S.

With Bazaz serving as the mental health director and Cuneo serving as the medical director, they bring care and supportive services to immigrant survivors of torture and trauma seeking refuge. 

The HEAL Refugee Health & Asylum Collaborative, which is the first dedicated physical asylum clinic in Baltimore, is a university/community partnership among four main organizations that comprise the ‘HEAL’ acronym: Johns Hopkins University (H), the Esperanza Center (E), and Asylee Women Enterprise (A), and Loyola University Maryland (L).

In this Q&A, Bazaz, who became a full-time faculty member at Loyola four years ago, shares more about the HEAL Collaborative and how it is serving asylum seekers in the Baltimore area.

Describe the HEAL Collaborative Program

Our mission is that through innovative partnerships and education, the HEAL Refugee Health & Asylum Collaborative expands access to responsive health care and supportive services for immigrant survivors of torture and trauma seeking refuge in the U.S. This includes forensic physical and psychological evaluations, mental health care, and other services for survivors of torture and trauma and their families. As a training clinic, we are committed to expanding the capacity of providers, students and other trainees in the area to serve this population.

What does your role entail?

I serve as the mental health director and lead growth, development, and oversight for the mental health services of the clinic including psychological evaluations, clinical counseling, and wider psychosocial support initiatives. I also lead mental health-related training and supervise mental health education-related activities, including teaching graduate students, supervising counselors, and mentoring new clinicians. 

Additionally, I provide clinical mental health counseling to adults and adolescents and as part of our Survivors of Torture programming, I provide clinical mental health counseling to children as well. 

How does your involvement in it connect to your research/scholarship?

My research/scholarship has always been in service of survivors of war and persecution. The HEAL Collaborative is a great home for research collaboration across many populations and institutions.

What are your hopes for the program?

My ultimate hope is that the systems generating war and persecution that also funnel into our very broken immigration system are dismantled. Part of that process is building healthy communities that care for one another and I hope that the HEAL Collaborative continues to be a space where people from different backgrounds can come to heal as well as learn and grow.

How does Loyola’s location in a destination hub for refugees impact the University?

Loyola University Maryland is built on a mission of service and cura personalis, care for the whole person. Its location in the heart of Baltimore provides an opportunity to do just that. I hope that students and faculty involved see themselves as part of the wider Baltimore ecosystem and serve in whatever capacity they can rather than a more typical academic approach of seeing the local community as means to just further their own research or professional agendas.

What can students and the community learn from refugees coming to Baltimore to seek asylum? 

The current immigration, health, and social service system is incredibly broken. While refugees and asylum seekers experience considerable stressors in their home countries forcing them to flee and during migration, conditions in the U.S. are also extremely challenging. That being said, our clients draw from numerous personal and community strengths. I hope that our students and community learn tangible skills to help them build a better world around us.