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At Reception House, our core mission is to provide a warm welcome to Government Assisted Refugees (GARs). 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.

That’s why our partnership with the Centre for Family Medicine (CFFM) is essential for the health and success of our clients. For the past 12 years, the Centre for Family Medicine Refugee Health Clinic has worked to ensure that all GARs who settle in Waterloo Region have their medical needs met shortly after arriving.

Here’s how it works: When our families arrive at Reception House, we help them set up an intake within their first few weeks in the country, and they remain with the clinic for at least 6 months. This clinic, known as the Refugee Health Clinic, meets basic health care needs, provides prescriptions, refers clients to the necessary specialists, and helps them find permanent family doctors when it is time for clients to move on. 

Our Case Managers will then help with the logistics of getting clients to appointments and passing on requests or questions to CFFM and other partners when clients are unable to do so for themselves. They will also sometimes provide support during and after medical appointments. (For example, providing information and interpretation when a client has a referral for an ultrasound or other lab work). All of which is necessary in order for the client to then return to the Refugee Health Clinic and continue getting their needs addressed. 

Given how central health needs are to the success of our clients, we truly cannot imagine how we would manage without their support. 

Of course, COVID-19 has changed some of these processes and has in some ways made addressing our families’ healthcare needs more complex. However, we believe healthcare is a critical part of giving the Warm Welcome that newcomers deserve, and that mandate is even stronger today. We are continuing to ensure our client’s healthcare needs are met by providing information and navigation, including about processes that have changed due to the virus.   

The Refugee Health Clinic plays a key role in this regard, as they are continuing to operate during the COVID-19 crisis. Like many doctors, they are trying to do as many appointments remotely as they can. When an appointment does need to happen in person, extra screening precautions are in place to ensure everyone’s safety. The staff at the clinic are passionate, dedicated individuals who have shown flexibility under difficult and ever changing circumstances. 

Naturally, our newcomer families are concerned about the virus, as we all are. The major difference for many of our clients is the difficulty in accessing local information due to language barriers. Our staff have been hard at work connecting with clients to help keep them informed and figuring out how to meet any pressing needs that arise throughout this situation.  

Thank you to the Centre for Family Medicine and all our other healthcare partners. At a time when many of the agencies that we refer clients out to for wrap around health services are closed, have limited hours or have strict criteria to see referrals, both of our teams are working hard to ensure that people are still being supported.