Nova Scotia

Newcomers health clinic in Halifax on 'long-term sustainable footing' thanks to new funding

Dr. Tim Holland becomes emotional thinking about a time not that long ago when the newcomers health clinic in Halifax had to stop taking new patients.

Money first announced in provincial budget will go toward hiring more staff

Dr. Tim Holland, medical lead of the newcomers health clinic in Halifax, is all smiles following a funding announcement on Tuesday. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Dr. Tim Holland becomes emotional thinking about a time last fall when the newcomers health clinic in Halifax had to stop taking new patients.

Faced with a staffing crunch and financial resources stretched to the breaking point, it was no longer safe for the clinic dedicated to refugees to see new patients, Holland, the site's medical lead, told reporters on Tuesday.

Thanks to new funding first announced in last spring's budget, however, Holland said the clinic is now on "long-term sustainable footing."

"These are happy tears," he said.

"You don't need to be a specialist in refugee health to understand that people fleeing war and violence will often face special health challenges that can't be met by walk-in clinics or the emergency department."

The clinic, which serves refugees when they first move to the province, has 2,715 patients and Holland said there is now room to take on more as new refugees arrive.

Funding will help hire more staff

The $684,000 in new annual funding pushes the clinic budget to more than $1 million. Health Minister Michelle Thompson said that money would allow the clinic to hire a new family practice nurse, a social worker and a coordinator to help patients navigate available services at the IWK Health Centre, the Halifax-based children's hospital.

This is on top of money the province provided earlier this year to help ensure doctors working at the clinic were compensated for their work. Holland said the clinic will have doctors working the equivalent hours of four full-time positions by October, although more than four doctors will work at the site.

Thompson said it's difficult to overstate how important the clinic's services are to the people they serve and the role it plays ensuring appropriate care.

"Some of these patients have complex medical needs, are experiencing trauma, face language barriers or for years have not received proper medical care," she said.

"These are people and families who have, in some cases, risked their lives for a new start."

The goal of the clinic is to move people on to permanent family practices within a year or two, once their name comes up on the waitlist. That has proved a challenge, however, as the registry for people waiting for a placement now tops 105,000. It means some patients are staying with the clinic longer than planned.

Waitlist for primary care an ongoing challenge

Thompson said the government has worked for close to a year on "foundational work" related to primary care and she believes people will see progress "in the next several months."

"I am very hopeful that we have the right vision in place now for us to be able to move forward and start to make some appreciable changes," she said.

Liberal MLA Rafa DiCostanzo, who worked as an interpreter in the health system before being elected to office, said the additional support for the clinic is welcomed and will make a difference in the lives of people coming to Nova Scotia as refugees.

But for the health system to fully work as intended, DiCostanzo said more must be done so people can find permanent primary care in a timely way.

"That's what the issue is right now," she said. "Most doctors' [offices] and the walk-in clinics are bursting at the seams."



Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at


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