Interior Health responds to refugee health care needs

Syrian refugees in Interior Health are receiving high-quality, culturally sensitive health-care services

Syrian refugees in Interior Health are receiving high-quality, culturally sensitive health-care services thanks to recent work to develop a systematic, evidence-based care approach for this population.

In November 2015, Interior Health learned that up to 400 Syrian refugees could be arriving to local communities over the winter months. At the time, there wasn’t an organized system in place to respond to the health-care needs of newcomers to the area.

Today, things are very different.

“I applaud Interior Health for their quick and diligent work to provide the high quality health care B.C. is known for to hundreds of Syrian newcomers,” said Health Minister Terry Lake.

“This is a great example of how teamwork among health-care practitioners and community partners can result in improved patient care.”

“A lot of incredible work happened in a very short period of time,” said Leslie Bryant MacLean, leader of quality and projects for population health with Interior Health.

“Through collaboration with physicians, nurse practitioners, community agencies, municipalities and other stakeholders, care pathways were developed, clinical tools were created, and education was provided on a number of topics including billing, cultural competence, health-care assessments and more.”

In addition, Interior Health began identifying and recruiting a range of health-care providers (physicians, specialists, midwives, dentists, physiotherapists, and optometrists) who were willing to deliver care to refugees through the Interim Federal Health (IFH) program.

Contact lists were developed for 18 communities to make finding health-care providers as easy as possible for the new arrivals.

From early November 2015 to the end of April 2016, 135 Syrian refugees settled in communities within Interior Health, including seven in Vernon.

While that number is lower than initial projections, the need for health-care services and support was significant. The new pathways and protocols helped ensure high-quality, evidence-based care was being delivered.

“Refugees face so many challenges when arriving in a new country and we wanted to make sure that accessing health care was as easy, comfortable, and welcoming as possible. The primary care centres did an amazing job accommodating urgent-care needs and using Arabic signage to welcome the refugees,” added Bryant MacLean.

Refugee health teams were established in primary care centres in Kelowna, Kamloops and Vernon.

These primary care centres served as health-care hubs providing screening, immunization, and addressing immediate health-care needs of refugees, as well as making referrals for treatment of chronic health concerns like diabetes and heart disease.

Between January and April 2016, Kelowna, Kamloops and Vernon primary care centres saw 91 Syrian refugees.

One hundred per cent of these required the services of an interpreter.

Nurse practitioners were instrumental as primary care providers for the Syrian newcomers.

“As a first generation immigrant to Canada myself, I personally understand the challenges newcomers face when arriving in a new country. I am so proud of the hard work and commitment that our health-care teams have dedicated to this initiative over the past several months,”said Erwin Malzer, Interior Health board chair.