One of the doctors working at Halifax's Refugee Health Clinic says it's a credit to volunteer physicians and the provincial government that refugee claimants continue to have health-care services despite federal cuts.
On Wednesday morning, the provincial ministers of health and immigration attended the official opening of the clinic on Mumford Road, which has been seeing patients since May.
Dr. Tim Holland said about 10 per cent of the clinic's patients are people waiting to hear about their refugee status who can't see a family doctor or "get their basic health needs met."
Because physicians volunteer their time to treat those patients, Holland says they continue to receive care for free.
"Thankfully, the province has really stepped up in helping fund this clinic, which helps subsidize and meet some of the cuts the federal government has done," he said. "But it's still a long way to go to make up for the cuts."
The federal government no longer pays for health coverage for all people in Canada seeking refugee status.
Partial coverage for children and pregnant women was restored after the Federal Court of Canada ruled that not providing the coverage is unconstitutional. That decision is being appealed by the federal government.
Holland said the clinic sees people affected by the federal government cuts on a daily basis.
"You still have adults with diabetes who aren't able to get their diabetic needs met and then going into a diabetic ketoacidosis," he said.
"We still have pregnant mothers that are struggling to see an obstetrician to monitor their pregnancy."
After the official opening of the clinic, physicians, medical students and medical residents gathered at Canada's most famous port of entry for immigrants — Pier 21 — to protest the cuts.
The group hopes health care becomes an election issue and they erected a sign reading "Closed until further notice: please send all complaints to the ballot box."
Dr. Alyson Holland, a pediatric emergency resident, said she's seen patients with fractured limbs receive a bill for emergency room care.
"People coming into this country as refugees need to be here. They're fleeing situations where their lives are at risk," she said.
"We owe it to people to help them when they arrive. And to acknowledge that by not doing so we are failing in our moral obligations and also creating much greater financial burdens down the road."
'This is really the Nova Scotia way'
The Refugee Health Clinic is a partnership with the Immigrant Settlement Association of Nova Scotia and operates out of the Dalhousie Family Medicine Clinic on Mumford Road.
The provincial government pays for the space and funds a registered nurse and an administrative assistant.
Health Minister Leo Glavine says immigration is important for the future of the province and the government wants to ensure people get off to a healthy start.
"It's a very, very low cost for the kind of professional health care they are going to receive," he said.
"This is really the Nova Scotia way."
Holland said the clinic's physicians have received specialized infectious disease training and work with interpreters.
"A lot of these patients have been in refugee camps for years and have been exposed to a lot of infectious disease and poor health standards," he said.
"Add to that a language barrier, not having a full understanding of the health-care system, you're creating a recipe for disaster from a health care perspective."
Alphonse Mutaugoma, who attended Wednesday morning's opening, arrived in Canada from the Democratic Republic of Congo in February after living in a refugee camp. He said many immigrants and refugees struggle to understand the Canadian health-care system.
"Most of them, they don't have any idea of what medical care can be," he said.
"It would help us to access real medical care without big challenge. Yes. We are happy to have this."