Kitchener Medical Clinic struggles with rising refugee numbers

KITCHENER — The son of refugees who arrived in Canada in 1962 treats newcomers at a medical clinic that is so under-resourced it may not be able to accept more patients.

“We had officially stated that we weren’t taking anyone in for the past three months, but we continue to take people in need,” said Dr. Neil Arya, founder of the Refugee Health Clinic on David Street in Kitchener.

Over the past year, the clinic has cobbled together several sources of funding for medical interpretation services, but that runs out next month. This could force Arya to stop seeing new patients at the clinic even as hundreds of new refugees are expected before the end of the year.

It is difficult for him to say “no”.

Growing up in Nelson, British Columbia, Arya heard his mother and father talk about fleeing violence in 1947 when the British partitioned India to create Pakistan. A million people were killed in the fighting that followed and another 14-20 million were displaced.

Arya’s mother was seven years old when her family fled on a crowded train to what is now India. Arya’s father was 15 when her family did the same. His mother is still alive.

And Arya remembers their stories.

“My father had tears of gratitude when he spoke of the generosity of certain people – Muslims who protected his family from danger.”

Arya was born in India. He was 38 days old when his mother and father decided to emigrate to Nelson, where his father had a teaching job, in 1962.

“Both my parents described the generosity of the people who took them in,” Arya said. “My mom was 21, my dad was 30. And then my sister was born less than a year later.”

Her refugee mother was home alone with two young children in a small British Columbia town with little English. She had no family or support network and her father was at work every day.

“The community has really stepped up and helped out,” Arya said. “They remembered the generosity of many people.”

Monday marked the 75th anniversary of the 1947 partition – the historic event that prompted her parents to move to Canada 15 years later.

The anniversary has Arya wondering why a country that was so generous and welcoming to her refugee family 60 years ago has not been able to provide sustainable funding for translation services for refugees from today.

Since its founding in 2008, the clinic has operated in association with McMaster University’s Reception House and School of Family Medicine. At a time when Canada is welcoming more refugees, immigrants and newcomers than ever before, the clinic’s future has never been more uncertain.

Canada is in the midst of a three-year expanded immigration program that sees approximately 1.2 million newcomers arrive each year.

Lack of translation support for primary care doctors and specialists makes it impossible to place patients with family doctors in the region, Arya said.

The clinic was designed to provide health services to 200 patients after their arrival in Kitchener-Waterloo. After six months, patients were to be placed with local family physicians. The lack of translation services and other supports for family doctors means that family doctors are accepting fewer refugees as patients, so the workload at the clinic increases.

The clinic’s caseload is currently over 400, and half of the patients have been at the clinic for more than two years, Arya said.

And this year, Waterloo Region is expected to welcome another 784 government-assisted refugees.

“We are going to get more people in the second half of the year than in the first,” Arya said.

A government program previously paid for interpretation services at the clinic, and over the past year a patchwork of private donors and government funds have paid for the clinic’s interpretation services – in-person translation, a streaming called Voyce and a phone system. Within weeks, funding dries up and there is no replacement.

Arya said interpretation services are not only needed at the clinic, but also for family doctors who care for refugees in their practice, and for specialists, he said.

“We’re not able to fire people, because the family doctors don’t have the resources, whether it’s interpretation or whatever, so I see this all coming to a head,” Arya said.

If refugees are forced to seek treatment in emergency departments, it costs the health system much more and they may wait too long before seeking help.

“If we can’t find a way to manage the interpreting needs, it’s going to blow up with someone having a really bad rush result and then people are going to be like, ‘Well, what could have been? be done ?’ “, Arya said.

“And we’ve known that since last year and we still haven’t been able to find a solution,” he said.

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