For a health practice that planned to help about 200 refugees a year, the Transitional Clinic for Refugees in Halifax has surpassed all expectations in just two short months.

Since January, 692 government-assisted Syrian refugees have been assessed by medical staff at the clinic, which opened on Mumford Road last May. 

"It's been a really positive experience, though very busy," said registered nurse Ashley Sharpe.

"Folks who are just arriving, we do an initial post-arrival health assessment, a general check-up to see how well folks are, if there are any medical needs that need following up or investigation."

The post-arrival assessment can also include minor procedures, vaccines, vision and dental screening. The exams are extensive, according to Graeme Kohler, the clinic's manager.

"We book them generally about a half an hour per person, so if it's a family of five, we would book it for 2½ hours," he said.

Doctors' schedules vary

Refugee Clinic Manager

Graeme Kohler, manager of the Transitional Clinic for Refugees in Halifax, says post-arrival assessments are extensive and often require several hours for large families.

There is a rotation of 18 physicians at the clinic, however their schedules are sporadic.

"It varies month to month. Some are away working up north and then they're back home for a while, so they're more available during those times," Kohler said. 

"Some of our physicians work locum shifts, which means they'll cover someone else's practice when they're away on vacation. It's really individual and depends on the individual physicians."

Added to the complex scheduling is the availability of local interpreters. 

"The majority of our patients have interpreters, of course, and therefore we try to book in-person interpretation if possible, which means the interpreter is actually in the room," said Kohler.

When medically trained interpreters aren't available, the clinic uses a phone service paid for by the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

Transition period

The Transitional Clinic for Refugees has set a timeline of two years to help new refugees adjust to Halifax before sending them to another clinic.

"Is two years right? We don't know. It's our starting point. It's what our experts guessed would be the right timeline to start with, so that's what we started with and we continue to figure out how to move forward," said Kohler.

He says the one thing his staff know for sure is that refugees coming to Halifax need medical care beyond the initial assessment.

"Just because they've arrived now, it doesn't mean that their health-care needs discontinue. It will take us a period of time to help settle these patients into community family practices," he said. 

"Ultimately we want to transition them to what will be their health home, which would be having a family doctor or nurse practitioner or primary care team looking after their needs on an ongoing basis."