Nova Scotia

Halifax's Refugee Health Clinic launching health care phone line

The Refugee Health Clinic in Halifax is launching a phone line for doctors and nurse practitioners who have questions about medical care for refugees.

ISANS and province still unsure how many refugee families will arrive in Nova Scotia

Graeme Kohler, a health services manager in the Nova Scotia Health Authority's central zone, says a health care manual and phone line may help with practices unique to treating refugees. (CBC)

The Refugee Health Clinic in Halifax is launching a phone line for doctors and nurse practitioners who have questions about medical care for refugees.

The clinic is also writing a manual to help health care workers assess and care for an influx of Syrian refugees expected in the coming months.

"Most of what refugees need is just generalized family practice. No one needs to be taught that, that's their gig," said Graeme Kohler, a health services manager in the Nova Scotia Health Authority's central zone.

Kohler says the new manual may help with practices unique to treating refugees.

"What is a post-arrival health assessment, what do you go through in that? How do you do that with an interpreter? There's a specialized skill involved in working with an interpreter," he said.

Kohler says doctors and nurses could also have questions about immunization schedules for patients without health records, billing practices with the Interim Federal Health Program for refugees, and health care-specific cultural questions, such as the relationship between a male provider and a female patient.

The Refugee Health Clinic only serves patients from the Halifax region.

'An important piece'

Kohler hopes the phone line will help support physicians of privately-sponsored refugees heading to other communities. 

"To be able to use that phone number to talk to a physician or a nurse on the phone at the drop of a hat is really going to be an important piece," he said.

Refugees may not realize they are in charge of their health care decisions, Kohler says, and it's important to emphasize that at the beginning.

"A lot of refugees who come in, they're so appreciative of being in Nova Scotia and getting the care that they're getting, that it's really important for us to make sure they understand that they have a choice," he said.

Kohler says the manual is a joint effort of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, the IWK Health Centre, the provincial Public Health department, and the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia. 

The manual is currently at 20 pages in draft form, but Kohler says he hopes to make it shorter.

Numbers still uncertain

The Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia says there's still no word about how many Syrian refugees will be arriving in Nova Scotia and when.

Executive director Gerry Mills says at least 35 private sponsorship applications have been submitted for refugee families to Citizenship and Immigration Canada. 

She says it's likely at least some of those families will arrive in the province before the end of December.

Nova Scotia's Immigration Minister Lena Diab said the province could receive as many as 1,500 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016, but there's no word yet from the federal government about how many will eventually arrive in the province.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jack Julian

Reporter

Jack Julian joined CBC Nova Scotia as an arts reporter in 1997. His news career began on the morning of Sept. 3, 1998 following the crash of Swissair 111. He is now a data journalist in Halifax, and you can reach him at (902) 456-9180, by email at jack.julian@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter @jackjulian

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