Standardization of refugee care across the province

My daring idea for health care in Alberta

April 6, 2017

Dr. Annalee Coakley

Contributed by: Annalee Coakley, MD, CCFP, DTM&H

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 people with health issues. As the medical director of the Mosaic Refugee Health Clinic in Calgary, I see first-hand the struggles refugees face.

We have people arriving with a range of complex health issues. Sometimes they’re dealing with conditions that have been neglected for years. The clinic, located in northeast Calgary, provides comprehensive primary care for refugees during their first two years in Canada. The clinic also links them to 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. To help alleviate that struggle, the clinic uses reliable drivers to chauffeur patients to appointments. accompany the refugees’ medical tests when possible, and ensure my sickest patients have my cell phone number so they can reach me.

My concern for my patients has also led to advocacy work, including a national effort to get the federal government under Stephen Harper 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, I continue to look for ways to ensure my refugee patients get the care they need.

Prescription medication is a particular challenge because of gaps in coverage or urgent need upon arrival. Refugees arrive here with nothing but the clothes on their backs, so can’t afford medications. In response to this need, I join my colleagues at Mosaic Refugee Clinic to put our teaching money into a donation account with the Calgary Health Trust. This helps pay for much needed medications.

My experience working with refugees, including the recent influx of Syrian refugees to Calgary, has given me a unique understanding of how we can better support them. I would really love to see a standardization of refugee care across the province. The Edmonton refugee clinic is in threat of closure. It shouldn’t matter if you arrive in Calgary, Edmonton or Lethbridge, you should receive the same level of care. I would also love to see an organization like Edmonton’s Multicultural Health Brokers better funded and expanded into Calgary. They are such a wonderful, under-resourced organization that I would like to see imported into Calgary.

Above all, I wish for more compassion and kindness in the world. The unwillingness to help our fellow global citizens that is occurring in parts of the world right now worries me. Refugees are in desperate circumstances and to reject people who are in such need creates an environment that allows extremist views to take hold. I feel Canada’s refugee policy needs to be exported around the world, because we are an example for how refugees should be welcomed.

I also wish more countries recognized the strength that refugees bring with them. We often describe refugees as vulnerable, but they are also resilient and resourceful. They arrive here willing to learn, so they are grateful for the opportunities that Canada offers. They don’t take 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.

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.