Ottawa Public Health says it will be asking for a one-time infusion of cash from the province to help with the costs of caring for Syrian refugees.

In a Feb. 1 report to be presented at Monday's Ottawa Board of Health meeting, medical officer of health Dr. Isra Levy said the city has taken in approximately 650 government-sponsored and privately-sponsored refugees as of late January.

With more than a thousand total refugees expected to arrive by the end of the month, Levy said the city will end up taking in about two-and-a-half times more refugees than in a normal year.

In an email, OPH said that approximately 2,000 refugees settle in Ottawa on an average year.

OPH has immunized about 260 refugees and screened 195 of them for dental issues since mid-January, said Levy and has worked to both stave off outbreaks in temporary housing and provide help to new and expecting mothers.

The report said Ottawa Public Health expects to work on "tobacco cessation" and mental health promotion amongst Syrian refugees as they continue to settle in the city.

"This enhanced response to the settlement of Syrian refugees has had an impact on resources and presented planning challenges for OPH," Dr. Levy wrote.

"The resettlement situation is ever-evolving and changing. As such, activities have been challenging to coordinate … Costs are being tracked at this time and one-time funding will be sought from the province to offset the expense."

Different dynamic

Carolyn Pim, Ottawa's acting deputy medical officer of health, said OPH was under the impression the city would be taking in more privately-sponsored Syrian refugees than government-sponsored.

Dr. Carolyn Pim, Ottawa Public Health

Dr. Carolyn Pim said the Syrian refugee settlement campaign in Ottawa is "fluid" and that leads to challenges. (CBC)

"Then in late December, early January, there was a rapid influx of refugees, and the model where they would be housed in hotels was different than anticipated," Pim said in an interview.

"We had to get our heads around that model."

Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Michael Qaqish, who sits on the health board and is also the city's liason with refugee settlement agencies, said government-sponsored refugees have different needs.

"Generally speaking the privately-sponsored refugees have a group that's supporting them here. They might be more easily integrated or more easily have those resources," he said,

"The [government-assisted] ones are more vulnerable, if you will, so they may need more assistance in that regard."

Tracking costs

Dr. Pim said she couldn't get into how much they'd be asking for or how much extra they've spent so far.

"We're tracking the extraordinary costs that are associated with providing the immunization or additional dental screening or other work that our staff is having to do. And we will be approaching the province to see [which] of those costs can be recovered by the province," she said.

"We don't typically go in and immunize people in hotels, those kind of things, so [there are] things ... that have required extra staffing over and above what our regular activities are."

The majority of the city's public health funding already comes from the province, Qaqish added.

"Right now, [the services] provided have been happening within the existing envelope of funding. So once that process is complete we'll be seeking a little more funding from the province," Qaqish said.

In an email, a spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care said they're committed to giving Syrian refugees access to high-quality healthcare, and they're working with the federal government on the funding question.

"The ministry has communicated to the health sector broadly regarding the preparedness efforts underway. Ontario will continue to work with the appropriate health system partners to ensure there is seamless, coordinated and appropriate quality care and support available to the incoming refugees," the email said.

"We have asked the health sector to track any extraordinary costs associated with providing health care during the resettlement process."

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