Manitoba can handle 2,000 Syrian refugees: doctor

A doctor with Winnipeg’s BridgeCare Clinic says Manitoba’s health-care system can handle as many as 2,000 additional Syrian refugees by the end of the year.

Number of additional patients still daunting, says Winnipeg refugee doctor

A Syrian refugee girl sits in a bus on the Greek island of Lesbos on Oct. 21. Canada has promised to admit 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015. (Reuters/Yannis Behrakis)

A doctor with Winnipeg's BridgeCare Clinic says Manitoba's health-care system can handle as many as 2,000 additional Syrian refugees by the end of the year.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to admit 25,000 Syrian refugees before 2016.

Manitoba's share, based on population, is 700, but Premier Greg Selinger said the province would be able to admit as many as 1,500 to 2,000 additional refugees this year to help ease the Syrian refugee crisis. On average, Manitoba admits about 1,500 refugees annually. 
Dr. Cynthia Sawatzky treats refugees through Winnipeg's BridgeCare Clinic. She says health-care providers in Manitoba can meet the needs of 2,000 additional Syrian refugees. (CBC)

"It can be done and it has to be done," said BridgeCare's Dr. Cynthia Sawatzky. Her clinic provides health care to government-sponsored refugees, and handles 400 to 500 patients per year. 

Health-care providers in the province can meet that challenge, she said, but the number is still significant and will require planning and preparation.

"On a personal level when I think, even for Manitoba, 2,000 — that's certainly a daunting number," said Sawatzky.

"When we have strained immigration services, you know housing … to now suddenly have such a surge, that's definitely a challenge for sure but … I have confidence the health-care providers, as well as the greater community of immigration service providers, can rise to it," she said.

Manitobans should not be concerned about a strain on the province's broader health-care system, she added. 

"Most refugees do not come to us in a fragile, medically needy state. Most of their health-care needs can be worked out over weeks or months," she said. 

As many as half of the Syrian refugees will likely be children, who tend not to have chronic illnesses that need ongoing attention, she said. The biggest stress for many adult Syrian refugees will not be PTSD but finding a well-paying job, Sawatzky said.

Manitoba will work closely with agencies such as BridgeCare to figure out how to make sure Syrian refugees have the services they need to settle in, said Selinger.

"Timing and availability of housing, these are all things that have to be sorted out, but we are working closely with all the non-profit,s so organizations and governments are all working together to make sure we can collaborate and co-ordinate all our responses," he said.

No increase in federal dollars has been promised to Manitoba yet, he added.

"We'll see what the federal government is proposing, but we do have resources that we're going to make available for community organizations that want to help with settlement," said Selinger.

BridgeCare is currently in talks with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) to arrange a meeting to discuss how the system can prepare for the influx of patients, Sawatzky said.


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