Why should I care about refugee health?
All resettled refugees and many refugee claimants will have the opportunity to become Permanent Residents and eventually Citizens of Canada. It is in the best interest of democracy and the economy to ensure that these individuals have the opporuntiy to get healthy as soon as possible. Just like everyone else, the sooner they are able to access good treatment, the better the outcomes are - and the cheaper it is for the system!
But there is obviously more to refugee health than this. Refugees have often been through unimaginable horror - violence and persecution that speaks to the worst of humanity. Canada has agreed to protect these individuals, or else these individuals are legally requesting Canada's protection. As citizens and residents, we have an opportunity, and some would say a duty, to help improve the lives of the least fortunate in our society. Certainly, refugees fall within this category.
What screening tests are done for refugees?
Refugees, once they have permanent status in Canada, undergo the same screening tests as Canadian-born individuals. These include the standard tests for cancer and chronic disease that everyone should go through.
In addition, refugees are screened for specific health concerns, including infectious illnesses. Their need for vaccines is evaluated and they are "caught up" to the Canadian standard of immunization. Mental health concerns are also discussed and they are offered treatment where appropriate.
I am a Canadian-born citizen without a Family Doc. Why can't I be a patient at the clinic?
The purpose of the clinic is to offer specialized services to refugees. Refugees have specific needs in health care, which include monitoring for illnesses that are much less common in Canadians, dealing with outcomes of trauma and monitoring for mental health disorders and distress. They also require assistance with health education and settlement. Because of the differences in health care, there is a need for a centre to coordinate their health services. There is a large population of refugees in Kitchener who are not currently receiving organized health care. Refugees report being denied care by community Family Doctors, walk-in clinics and even hospitals. They have few options at present for care.
We certainly acknowledge that there is a general shortage of Family Doctors and health services in the Kitchener-Waterloo region. The hope of the clinic is to divert refugees from clinics without the expertise to care for them, and so free up time and patient roster room from other community GPs. By taking on patients that other GPs struggle to treat effectively, we hope that those GPs will be able to open up spots to others in the community. This is an idea that has worked well in other centres (like Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Hamilton, Halifax, and many others.)
It is really no different from GPs who focus their practice on the elderly, on athletes, on women's health or on children. These specialized providers help to build capacity within the health care system while offering a valuable service, and more patients are seen by health care providers who can offer high quality of care.
Don't refugees already get better treatment than Canadians?
There was a rumour circulating over the internet that refugees got some sort of "gold-plated" health care system that Canadians could not access. In fact, refugees are able to access a Federal system that is equivalent to the benefits under Provicial social assistance - what other low income Canadians have access to. This allows them to see physicians, get medication, and have access to special devices (like prosthetic legs and wheelchairs) that they may never have had before. This coverage usualy lasts a few months up to one year.
How can I help the clinic?
The clinic is always looking for support from the community. Because of the nature of the clinic, we do not generate as much income and our expenses (like interpretation) are higher than in a general practice clinic. At this time, we have need of donations - including office equipment, medical equipment and monetary donations. We do occasionally have opportunities for volunteering in the future - contact us if you are interested. If you are part of an organization that does similar work, we would love to add your link to our website. Finally, if you like what we do, we would love to hear from you!