ONHC: Sustainable Funding Required to Meet Growing DemandOctober 21, 2022
Ottawa Newcomer Health Centre (ONHC) was found in 2008 to provide clinical services to refugees and newcomers. At the time, it was operating one half-day per week. Since then, it has evolved into a full-packaged wrap-around healthcare service for newcomers in Ottawa and the demand keeps growing.
The Centre offers four services:
- Bridge primary healthcare program (including initial medical assessment and immunization)
- Integrated mental health services that provide tailored services to newcomers and refugees fleeing conflict zones.
- Ottawa Language Access Program to assist clients with interpretation services. The program provides services in more than 200 languages including 36 languages readily available onsite.
- Multicultural health navigation team to assists newcomers understand the workings of the Canadian healthcare systems.
“We are the most comprehensive healthcare package that fits the needs of newcomers and refugees,” said ONHC Manager Farouq Samim.
ONHC was established to serve all newcomers regardless of their immigration classification, but due to limited capacity it has been focusing on government sponsored refugees. For example, the Centre is not able to serve Ukrainian refugees because they are not classified as refugees by the federal government.
Even with reducing its client population, the Centre can only serve about 1,000 clients per year due to limited resources. Consequently, there are more than 800 newcomers on the waiting list for initial medical assessment and immunization. The problem could be even bigger as more refugees, including Afghans are expected to choose Ottawa was their new home. The number of clients the Centre serves is a drop in the bucket considering that Ottawa receives about 16,000 newcomers per year.
Moreover, ONHC is supposed to be a bridge program to support clients during their first year in Ottawa, but it is common for clients to stay beyond that period because they have complex cases or simply because they can’t find a family doctor particularly a family doctor offering culturally and linguistically appropriate services which is much needed for most of the refugees. This also adds pressure to the little capacity already available.
The biggest challenges the Centre faces are staff shortages and limited space. Samim emphasizes that enough base funding would allow him to better plan for things like how many patients he can serve and how much staff he needs. ONHC currently has 3 patient examination rooms and an equivalent of 10 full-time staff running the four programs.
To complement its regular operations, ONHC is working on new initiatives to clear the backlog and be able to eventually take more clients. In partnership with Ottawa South-East Community Health Centre, and CCI, ONHC is running a mass vaccination campaign for newly arrived refugees. This is a much-needed service for many families especially that about 50 per cent of clients on the waitlist are under 18 and children cannot go to school if they are not immunized.
The Centre also recently got new funding from Ontario Health to reduce waitlists for initial medical assessment and immunization, but it is temporary as it cannot be used beyond the current fiscal year. The new funding is being used to hire an equivalent of 5.5 additional full-time staff and to rent a space to accommodate more patients.
“It’s helpful, but in the long term we need sustainable funding, at least, twice as much as we get right now. If you compare a one-time funding and base funding, there is a big difference,” Samim.