Ottawa Newcomer Health Centre Expanding to Meet the Health Needs of more RefugeesSeptember 27, 2017
Initially set up in 2010 to serve Government Assisted Refugees (GARs), the ONHC is expanding its clientele to also include privately sponsored refugees and refugee claimants.
In the last seven years, the ONHC has experienced significant growth – from 299 clients to 728. “This expansion is about equity and treating everyone equally, whether they are a GAR, privately sponsored refugee or a refugee claimant,” says Siffan Rahman, Manager, Ottawa Newcomer Health Centre. “Often refugee claimants can fall through the cracks in the health care system. Many live in fear and don’t understand the health services they are entitled to.”
“We are so proud to be a key partner in the development and continued growth of the Ottawa Newcomer Health Centre. The centre’s medical clinic offers crucial services to refugees who have arrived from around the world and are integrating into life in our region,” said Chantale LeClerc, CEO of the Champlain LHIN, a provincial government Crown agency. “This expansion is well aligned to one of our main priorities—providing linguistically and culturally appropriate health care.”
The ONHC is a community based initiative dedicated to providing holistic services that promote the health and social well-being of refugees. It is operated in partnership with the Somerset West Community Health Centre and the Catholic Centre for Immigrants.
The Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership (OLIP) health and well-being sector table was the driving force behind the creation of the ONHC, as its members noticed that there was a gap in health care, and that more culturally sensitive health care was needed for refugees.
“The ONHC very much responds to one of the Ottawa Immigration Strategy priorities, which is to improve immigrants’ and refugees’ access to health services, including those related to mental health, disease prevention, and health promotion,” says Hindia Mohamoud, Director, OLIP. “The Centre’s expansion to serve new refugee groups is certainly a testament to our community’s progress in understanding the capacities required to respond to newcomers’ needs.”
The ONHC encompasses three programs: the Ottawa Newcomer Clinic, Multicultural Health Navigator and Ottawa Language Access.
Ottawa Newcomer Clinic
The clinic, which operates five days a week, currently has six health care providers on staff that have expertise in international health. The expansion will see a nurse practitioner and medical office assistant added to the team which last year served 728 refugees.
Services at the clinic include medical screening and treatment of urgent medical needs (including short-term follow-up), a tuberculosis clinic, women’s health checkups, immunizations, health promotion education and more. It also connects clients to more permanent primary health care providers in the community.
The clinic also has a psychiatrist trained in trauma and refugee care. “This type of mental health care is extremely important given the trauma experienced by many of the refugees we see,” remarks Ms. Rahman.
The benefits of this clinic are numerous. “Our clients quickly learn to navigate our very complex health care system,” says Ms. Rahman. The clinic is conveniently located in the same building as the Catholic Centre for Immigrants, one of Ottawa’s largest settlement agencies, and a handful of other immigrant serving agencies.
“When they walk through our door, our clients find out everything from the basics, such as how to apply for an OHIP card, to how to book an appointment with a specialist,” explains Ms. Rahman. “They immediately feel a sense of trust as they receive a more thorough health screening from specialized health care providers and are assisted by professional interpreters.”
One such client was recently profiled in the Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC) 2016-17 annual report:
Sabeen arrived in Ottawa with her family as a refugee. Her journey with SWCHC began in the winter of 2016 when she was temporarily housed at the Radisson Hotel. There, a nurse practitioner provided her with urgent primary care and referred Sabeen to the Ottawa Newcomer Clinic.
After being assessed and referred for further specialized care, Sabeen was diagnosed with a serious health problem and needed treatment. Our work was not finished just yet! We connected Sabeen with one of our multicultural health navigators who helped her navigate the healthcare system, including getting to and from the hospital and managing multiple appointments.
Throughout her journey, Sabeen and her inter-professional healthcare team were able to communicate thanks to the interpretation services provided by Ottawa Language Access program. That’s what we call quality, coordinated care!
In 2015 and 2016, when Ottawa saw a rapid influx of some 1,400 Syrian refugees, the ONHC played a pivotal role in coordinating health care access and services for these new refugees. ONHC partnered with six community health centres and the Bruyère Family Health Team to provide initial health care screenings and meet the most urgent health care needs of these refugees. The ONHC also shared its Syrian refugee screening tool, as well as the Refugee Health Toolkit (developed in house), with family physicians across the city.
The aim of the ONHC is to improve the quality of health care, health and social well-being; reduce barriers and gaps to health services; provide meaningful referrals, and prevent avoidable emergency room visits or hospital admissions. This recent expansion will go a long way towards achieving these goals and ensuring timely, coordinated and culturally appropriate health care for refugees in Ottawa.