One of the doctors working at Halifax’s Refugee Health Clinic says it’s a credit to volunteer physicians and the provincial government that refugee claimants continue to have health care despite federal cuts.
On Wednesday, the provincial ministers of health and immigration attended the official opening of the clinic, which has been seeing patients since May.
Dr. Tim Holland says about 10 per cent of the clinic’s patients are people waiting to hear about their refugee status who can’t see a family doctor or “get their basic health needs met.”
Because physicians volunteer their time to treat those patients, Holland says they continue to receive care free of charge.
“Thankfully, the province has really stepped up in helping fund this clinic, which helps subsidize and meet some of the cuts the federal government has done,” he said. “But it’s still a long way to go to make up for the cuts.”
The federal government no longer pays for health coverage for all people in Canada seeking refugee status.
Some coverage for children and pregnant women has been restored pending the results of an appeal of a Federal Court of Canada ruling that said not providing the coverage is unconstitutional.
But Holland says the clinic sees people affected by the federal government cuts on a daily basis.
“You still have adults with diabetes who aren’t able to get their diabetic needs met and then going into a diabetic ketoacidosis. We still have pregnant mothers that are struggling to see an obstetrician to monitor their pregnancy,” he said.
‘This is really the Nova Scotia way’
Halifax’s Refugee Health Clinic, a partnership with the Immigrant Settlement Association of Nova Scotia, operates out of the Dalhousie Family Medicine Clinic on Mumford Road.
The provincial government pays for the space and funds a registered nurse and an administrative assistant.
Health Minister Leo Glavine says immigration is important for the future of the province and the government wants to ensure people get off to a healthy start.
“It’s a very, very low cost for the kind of professional health care they are going to receive,” he said.
“This is really the Nova Scotia way, where we use part of a building that is really for ISANS, and we re-purpose a couple of rooms and get an examining room.”
Holland says the clinic’s physicians have received specialized infectious disease training and work with interpreters.
“A lot of these patients have been in refugee camps for years and have been exposed to a lot of infectious disease and poor health standards,” he said.
“Add to that a language barrier, not having a full understanding of the health care system, you’re creating a recipe for disaster from a health care perspective.”
Alphonse Mutaugoma, who attended this morning’s opening, arrived in Canada from the Democratic Republic of Congo in February after living in a refugee camp.
He says many immigrants and refugees struggle to understand the Canadian health care system.
“Most of them, they don’t have any idea of what medical care can be,” he said.
“It would help us to access real medical care without big challenge. Yes. We are happy to have this.”