No borders here

March 14, 2017

Dr. Annalee Coakley

For refugees fleeing war and violence, Canada offers safety and the promise of a better future. But arriving in a new country can be overwhelming, especially for those who have health issues. As the Medical Director of the Mosaic Refugee Health Clinic in Calgary, Dr. Annalee Coakley sees first-hand the struggles refugees face.

“We have people arriving with a range of complex health issues,” she explains. “Sometimes they’re dealing with conditions that have been neglected for years.”

Health challenges and more

The clinic, located in North East Calgary, provides comprehensive primary care for refugees during their first two years in Canada. In addition, the clinic links them to a variety of other health and community resources.

“Arriving as a refugee is challenging, especially if you don’t speak the language or struggle with literacy and numeracy,” says Dr. Coakley. To help alleviate that struggle, the clinic uses reliable drivers to chauffeur patients to appointments, Dr. Coakley accompanies them to tests when possible and she ensures her sickest patients have her cell phone number so they can reach her.

Her concern for her patients has also led to advocacy work, including a national effort to get the Harper government to reverse cuts to refugee health funding. “I’m not at all political, but I had to do something. Because if not me, who?”

Although the Trudeau government has since reversed the cuts, Dr. Coakley continues to look for ways to ensure her patients get the care they need.

“Prescription medication is a particular challenge because of gaps in coverage or urgent need upon arrival,” she explains. “Refugees arrive here with nothing but the clothes on their backs, so can’t afford medications.”

The Canadian way

In response, Dr. Coakley and her colleagues at Mosaic Refugee Clinic decided to put their teaching money into a donation account with the Calgary Health Trust, which is used to pay for much-needed medications.

“We often describe refugees as vulnerable, but they are also resilient and resourceful,” she marvels. “They arrive here willing to learn and so grateful for the opportunities that Canada offers. They don’t take those opportunities for granted and are incredibly loyal to their new country. If you want to create a patriot, give a refugee the chance to build a new life.”

Although she is concerned about the increasing resistance to welcoming refugees in certain parts of the world, she is grateful for what she is able to do. “I feel like we make a difference in our patients’ lives and we do it all with love and compassion. And that is the best antidote for what is happening in the world right now.”

The Alberta Medical Association stands as an advocate for its physician members, providing leadership & support for their role in the provision of quality health care.