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Refugee Medical Clinic appeals for help

KITCHENER — The Family Practice Center’s Refugee Health Clinic may have to stop accepting new patients even as 750 government-assisted refugees are expected to arrive here in 2022, says Dr. Neil Arya, founder and director of the clinic.

“We’re at twice our current capacity,” Arya said.

They often have little or no English and suffer from acute trauma, anxiety and depression in addition to needing routine medical care.

“It would really help if we had medical providers ready to take on more of our patients and we could support more people coming in,” Arya said.

Since 2008, the clinic has treated most, if not all, government-assisted refugees — those sponsored by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada — arriving in Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge.

In the past, the refugee health clinic screened, treated and stabilized them. After six months, they were usually transferred to family doctors who accepted new patients.

Before the pandemic, the clinic could find family doctors for 250 patients a year.

“We haven’t been able to release a whole lot over the last two years,” Arya said. “So we are now transporting around 475 very complex patients with language barriers.”

Arya works there one and a half days a week with the help of a part-time nurse practitioner and a multidisciplinary team. They were told to expect more than 750 refugees this year, and that does not include those from Ukraine.

That’s about three times the number of refugees arriving here in a normal year. In 2015-2016, hundreds of Syrian war refugees came to Kitchener-Waterloo and the local medical community stepped up to help the clinic.

At this point, Arya said the clinic needs to find family doctors for at least 250 refugee patients or it will need funds for more staff.

“We might need more doctors in our clinic because the volume is higher,” he said. “And then, if we try to help the Ukrainians, even more.”

Ottawa says it will settle 40,000 Afghans in Canada. About 7,000 have arrived so far. About 200 Afghan families have come to this area so far.

Ottawa says it will allow an unlimited number of Ukrainian refugees to stay here for up to three years without visas, and financial assistance for those who welcome them.

Ottawa is the second year of a three-year immigration expansion program. Last year, 430,000 newcomers arrived in Canada, and similar numbers are expected in 2022 and 2023.

“If the government wants Afghans to be taken care of and Ukrainians to be taken care of, clinics like ours need to be resourced to provide those services,” Arya said.

Simply removing patients from the clinic’s roster is not an option, he said.

Family physicians must notify their patients when they can no longer care for them. But this is not an ethical approach to refugees struggling with physical and mental trauma. They often have little or no English and no knowledge of navigating the healthcare system on their own.

“We think people would end up with no one to take care of things,” Arya said. “I’m not sure they would necessarily know how to get to a walk-in clinic, and if the walk-in clinic will say, ‘Your needs are too complex, we don’t have an interpreter, we don’t we’re not going to see you.'”

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