At Reception House, our core mission is to provide a warm welcome to government assisted refugees. When we think of providing a warm welcome, our first thoughts are probably not of a hospital ER or Public Health clinic but, for many of our clients, these are some of the first places they encounter in Canada.
Due to the overwhelming number of refugees seeking resettlement around the globe, our government relies on the UN High Commission for Refugees to refer those who are in the most vulnerable position overseas. One of the criteria used in assessing someone for resettlement is serious medical needs that cannot be managed adequately in the first country of safety.
Seen at a KW clinic.
Many people arriving at Reception House require follow-up and support for a wide range of health needs. For many refugees, finally having the time and resources to attend to long ignored medical issues is their first priority. Along with all of its positive aspects, our healthcare system can prove overwhelming to someone whose first language is not English and is already in a vulnerable position.
Our Case Managers have their work cut out for them – from booking appointments with a wide range of service providers, to ensuring interpretation is available, to helping navigate paperwork, wait lists and detailed medical instructions.
Primary care physicians are scarce in this community, like many others. As the picture above attests, family doctors are overwhelmed with the number of people looking for care. At Reception House alone, 143 individuals have been here over 6 months without a permanent family doctor. Unless this issue is addressed at the systems level, the number will continue to grow.
“When we measure our healthcare system, let’s not forget how it treats those most vulnerable.”
Despite these daily challenges, we are fortunate to have many allies in the health care sector. For the past 10+ years, we have operated a refugee health clinic, in partnership with the Centre for Family Medicine (CFFM), to provide initial health assessments, manage treatment and referrals for more urgent or chronic needs and support advocacy. Through this partnership, we have ensured that everyone coming through Reception House is able to see a doctor within their first two weeks in Canada. CFFM has also been able to secure funding for a new staff position focused on healthcare coordination and outreach. Having a dedicated point person has benefitted us greatly!
As the health care system at the provincial level changes, we ask for your voice in ensuring that refugee health care and equity are on the Ministry’s radar. When we measure our healthcare system, let’s not forget how it treats those most vulnerable. Upstream solutions, prevention and accessible primary rather than urgent care services contribute to a healthier society for all.
“Getting my first power wheelchair changed my life. It allows me to be independent and pursue my everyday activities without being a burden. Now that I can get around by myself, I feel welcome and taken care of”.
– Mariam A, Newcomer refugee
We all need to work to preserve our publicly funded health care so that health care is accessible and equitable for everyone. The difference between thriving,surviving and belonging in a new community can come down to physical health. In words of mariam Al Azeb, a newcomer with limited mobility: “Getting my first power wheelchair changed my life. It allows me to be independent and pursue my everyday activities without being a burden. Now that I can get around by myself, I feel welcome and taken care of”.
Let’s ensure we consider the big picture when we think of what it means to provide welcome.
Lynne Griffiths-Fulton has worked on refugee advocacy issues in Waterloo Region for over 10 years. Join Lynne on our advocacy committee. For more information, visit: https://receptionhouse.ca/committees/