Nova Scotia

Halifax health clinic for newcomers stops taking referrals

The clinic in Halifax has reached its capacity and is not taking on new referrals at this time.

Clinic has no capacity right now for new patients

Liberal MLA Rafah DiCostanzo represents the district of Clayton Park-West. (CBC)

The Newcomer Health Clinic in Halifax has reached its capacity and is not taking any more referrals.

Liberal MLA Rafah DiCostanzo raised the issue during question period at Province House on Thursday.

In an interview, DiCostanzo said a staffing crunch made the decision by the clinic necessary. The intention is to provide health care for immigrants and refugees and help them transition to a family doctor or nurse practitioner within two years.

DiCostanzo said the clinic needs more doctors, more nurses and more space.

"They started this many years ago when we had very little immigration," DiCostanzo said. "So it was set up on a smaller scale. And immigration has bloomed — and it's a wonderful thing — but we haven't given them the funding they need so they can serve."

No one from the clinic was available for an interview on Friday. A spokesperson for the provincial health authority said in a statement that work is ongoing to find a solution to support more patients.

Staffing model not sustainable

As of this week, the clinic serves 2,532 people, with about 200 visits each week by health-care providers.

The clinic has 2.2 full-time equivalent registered nurse positions, 1.6 full-time equivalent administrative support positions and 3.5 full-time equivalent family doctor positions.

The health authority said 1.5 of the family doctor positions are provided by fee-for-service physicians who collectively provide up to 50 hours per week and are billed exclusively through fee-for-service billings.

"Based on 2019 billings, the FFS physicians at the newcomer health clinic earn less than 20 per cent of the average earnings of a FFS physician working elsewhere, so it creates a 'volunteer' mentality and is not a sustainable model," according to the statement.

There is also a 0.1 full-time equivalent pediatrician from the IWK Health Centre.

Michelle Thompson is Nova Scotia's health minister. (Communications Nova Scotia)

DiCostanzo said the clinic would also benefit from a social worker, to allow doctors to focus primarily on medical issues. Having worked at the clinic in the past as an interpreter prior to entering politics, the Clayton Park-West MLA said the clinic helps keep people from visiting emergency departments for primary care and affords them access to health care in an environment where language is not a barrier.

"The refugees arrive with zero English, most of them, or very little. Even with a bit of English it's very difficult to know all the medical terminology."

Health Minister Michelle Thompson said she became aware of the situation during her recent tour of the province to hear from health-care workers. 

Thompson said in an interview that the government is committed to ensuring primary access across the province and they will work with care providers to figure out what needs to happen at the clinic.

"We want to work with them, particularly around specialized services for immigrants and refugees."