Hospitals and community health centres across the GTA have started to open their doors to Syrian refugees in need of medical care, but say the demand so far has been low and they expect a greater influx of patients over the next few months.
St. Michael’s Hospital held a clinic for newly arrived refugees on Tuesday, and one family attended.
“We are not really expecting the big numbers until January and February,” said Leslie Shepherd, spokeswoman for the hospital. “That’s what everybody is seeing at the moment,” she said.
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St. Michael’s is one of several health centres across the GTA that have set up a monthly clinic for the “initial clinical assessment” and to ensure refugees get the medical care they need during the first year.
Women’s College Hospital announced a clinic for Syrian refugees last month, although it has been running a clinic for refugees from other countries for years.
The hospital partnered with St. Mike’s and other local health centres to prepare for an anticipated surge. A dozen other community health centres are also holding clinics, with some on an as-needed basis.
While most medical issues are likely to be common to other newcomers, war-related trauma is also expected, said Ashna Bowry, a staff physician at St. Michael’s Hospital.
Bowry expects to see “pre-existing medical problems such as asthma, chronic diseases that have been left untreated… as well as “aftermath of war and injury,” including post-traumatic stress disorder.
The refuges have access to Interim Federal Health benefits and are eligible to apply for OHIP on arrival. The IFH covers extended health benefits, including dental, vision care and prosthetics, for one year, she said. Any newly arrived refugees can call a central intake number where they will be told where the next clinic will be held.
Among the biggest concerns for doctors who treat them is ensuring their medical history doesn’t get lost in translation.
“It’s likely difficult to have a medical discussion, if doctors and patients can’t speak the same language,” said Shamim Pasha, an active volunteer with Friends of Syria, who said he was approached by an east-end community health centre to tap into his network for Arabic-English translators willing to help with a clinic next week.
Most hospitals said there are interpreter services available, and some of the sponsored refugees who have recently arrived are coming in with family who can help with translation.
Pasha said he was told the clinic hopes real volunteers, particularly people from Syria, will help to interpret certain lingo and dialect and make the experience easier on all.
Pasha said the response received to a simple call for help on social media has been heartwarming.
In a matter of hours after posting on social media Monday night, they had 12 volunteers ready to attend an info session. Since then, there have been more offers of help, including some from as far away as Alberta.