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New clinic for refugees opens in Hamilton

The Refuge Hamilton Centre for Newcomer Health, a clinic staffed for free by doctors and nurses, has opened a second location in the lower east end to meet demand from a growing immigrant population.
Terri Bedminster says Refuge Hamilton Centre for Newcomer Health is happy to have more space and a new location in Homeside. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

A team of Hamilton doctors and nurses donating health care to new immigrants is expanding to a second location.

The Refuge Hamilton Centre for Newcomer Health, funded primarily through contributions from local doctors and nurse practitioners, has opened a second clinic in the Perkins Centre at Kenilworth Avenue North and Main Street East.

It has also partnered with McMaster University's School of Nursing, and third-year student nurses will do placements there.

It's good news for a clinic funded primarily through the billing fees of the specialists, physicians and nurses who work there. The first clinic opened in 2011 and quickly grew too big for its initial Hughson Street South location, said Terri Bedminster, Refuge's director of operations.

The clinic treats ailments from common influenza to major mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder from horrific conditions in the patients' native countries, Bedminster said.

It's been a year and a half since it opened, and it serves about 1,500 patients, she said.

"We've been managing a wait list for the last little while."

The clinic addresses a gap in the health care system that leaves many newly arrived refugees and immigrants with minimal health care, Bedminster said. Many use emergency rooms or walk-in clinics, or go untreated.

The current clinic is located in the bottom level of a converted house downtown. The new clinic, which opened Thursday, is located at the Perkins Centre, where McMaster nursing students take classes.

It's closer to the people who need it, who often struggle to make it to the Hughson Street clinic, said Dr. Tim O'Shea, a Refuge board member who practices at the clinic. And like the initial clinic, it runs on a shoestring.

The initial clinic only has two small clinic rooms, so only one physician or nurse practitioner could comfortably work there at a time, O'Shea said. And there was little administrative space too.

McMaster's school of nursing is happy to get involved, said Olive Wahush, assistant dean of undergraduate nursing education programs. The nursing students will make a difference through seeing a wide variety of patients.

"They'll be able to see right at the front end some of the social determinants of health in action," she said.

The new clinic is located at 1429 Main St. E. It is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The original clinic at 183 Hughson St. S. is open five days a week from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.