Newly arrived Syrian refugees were introduced to the Canadian health care system at an open clinic at Ottawa's Bruyère Family Medicine Centre Thursday evening.

About a dozen family doctors at Bruyère plan to hold weekly clinics for groups of government-sponsored refugees. 

Dr. Doug Gruner, lead physician for Refugee 613's health task force, said Bruyère is one of five health hubs that will be the first point of contact for refugees in need of medical attention.

He said health teams have been planning for the care of Syrian arrivals for months.

All the government-sponsored refugees settling in Ottawa have Ontario health insurance.

Teach how system works

"The plan is to help them understand how our health system works," said Gruner. "We want to give them the knowledge ... how to use Telehealth along with the value of walk-in clinics."

Chamroeun Lay

Chamroeun Lay, a settlement worker at Catholic Immigration Services, relates to the newcomers as a former refugee himself.

Gruner said he wants to explain to them that going to the hospital emergency department is not the best place to seek care for minor issues.

The doctors also want to provide check-ups and assess needs.

"We want to make sure because of their migration history, that we're not missing something that's not common here to Canada," said Gruner.

He said another priority will be making sure everyone receives the necessary vaccinations.

Each of the 13 staff physicians who work at Bruyère has agreed to accept a Syrian family into their practice, but Gruner said that's all the extra patients the physicians are able to handle right now.

450 refugees arrived so far

Already, 450 government-sponsored refugees have arrived in the city and more are on their way.

Doug Gruner

Dr. Doug Gruner is the lead physician for the Ottawa group Refugee 613.

Given the refugees have come from a war zone, the physicians anticipate trauma counseling and treatment down the road.

"Two months, six months, a year down the road the reality starts to set in. We worry about women," said Gruner. "The kids are at school, dad might have a job, they become isolated and there's a risk of depression."

Chamroeun Lay, a settlement worker with Catholic Immigration Services, is helping people as they arrive in temporary housing at Ottawa hotels. He said he knows what these newcomers are going through.

Watching for signs of post-traumatic stress

"I used to be a refugee myself," said Lay, who came to Canada from Vietnam in the 1970s. "At the beginning we're so overwhelmed ... then reality sets in."

Doctors at the various health hubs will be watching for any signs of post-traumatic stress, and they're anticipating some special needs.

For now, the most immediate concern is the viruses some children are already being exposed to here in Canada. This week there's been a limited outbreak of the flu at a couple of the residences temporarily housing refugees.

Dr. Gruner said six kids were taken to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario with the flu this week, but none of the cases are considered serious.