Interior Health meets needs of Syrian refugees

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

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

Interior Health learned last November that up to 400 Syrian refugees could be arriving to local communities over the winter months.

At the time, the health authority says in a press release, 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.

“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,” said  Leslie Bryant MacLean, Leader of Quality and Projects for Population Health with Interior Health.

In addition, Interior Health began identifying and recruiting  physicians, specialists, midwives, dentists, physiotherapists, and optometrists who were willing to deliver care to refugees through the Interim Federal Health  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. 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,” said 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. 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, Nurse Practitioner in Kamloops.

The tools and pathways developed also helped community agencies, like Kelowna Community Resources, connect refugees with health-care services.

“We are very excited about Interior Health’s proactive approach to serving refugees. The collaboration between Kelowna Community Resources and Interior Health has ensured a seamless service for newly arrived Syrians to our community,” said Katelin Mitchell, Immigrant Services Manager for Kelowna Community Resources.

“Our team is grateful to be able to pick up the phone and have immediate assistance to help these families navigate the health-care system. The lists of health-care professionals registered with IFH has been a great asset.”

The work done to respond to the health-care needs of Syrian refugees is expected to become the new standard for delivering health care to all newcomers including refugees, immigrants and temporary workers.


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