Health-care resources were rallied in short order in anticipation of the arrival of hundreds of Syrian refugees in the region, an exceptional effort recognized at Tuesday’s IHA board meeting.
The goal was to develop a systematic, evidence-based care approach for the newly arrived Canadians — many of whom had languished for years in refugee camps — no minor challenge given that health authorities were only alerted in November 2015 to the wave of refugees.
At the time, there wasn’t an organized system in place to respond to the health-care needs of newcomers to the area. That’s no longer the case. The manner in which resources came together is expected to become the new standard for delivering health care to all newcomers including refugees, immigrants and temporary workers.
“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 IHA.
“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, 135 Syrian refugees settled in communities within the health region. While that number was 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. The 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. Nurse practitioners were instrumental as primary care providers for the Syrian newcomers.
“We provided primary care with a nursing lens. Many of the cultural, social, and language needs were addressed seamlessly along with clinical diagnoses and treatment,” said Colleen Regehr, a nurse practitioner in Kamloops.
The tools and pathways developed also helped community agencies, such as Kelowna Community Resources, connect refugees with health-care services.
“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 healthcare teams have dedicated to this initiative over the past several months,” said Erwin Malzer, board chairman. “Their focus on providing culturally sensitive health care helps ensure Interior Health continues to deliver top-notch care to all newcomers. The success of this initiative also strengthens our commitment going forward to provide culturally sensitive care that addresses the needs of all marginalized populations within Interior Health.”