Volunteer clinic finding it 'difficult' to cope with influx of refugees seeking health care

The Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Health Care (CCRIHC) says it has been “difficult” to cope with an influx of refugees and other newcomers seeking medical care.

Centre says it needs more doctors and nurses to keep up with demand

The Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Health Care provides a full spectrum of primary care and also addresses mental and dietary issues, and patients having trouble with their feet. It also operates a dental clinic. (CBC)

The Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Health Care (CCRIHC) says it has been "difficult" to cope with an influx of refugees and other newcomers seeking medical care.

Sumathy Rahunathan, research lead and clinical navigator at the volunteer clinic, said staff started noticing an increase in demand about six years ago but the numbers picked up even more in the last 12 months.

"We mostly see newcomers to Canada, so refugees, permanent residents, work visas, student visas, sometimes people who are just here for a very long time and don't have [Ontario Health Insurance Plan] for whatever reason," Rahunathan said.

"Lately there has been a surge in refugees who have been coming to our clinic. From the initial start in 2012, we thought it would level off but it's just been very, very busy."

Rahunathan said many new Canadians, ineligible for insured services, rely on the medical lifeline of the centre's free clinics.

According to the CCRIHC website, a dedicated cohort of health and social service professionals volunteer their time and skill to the cause.

The centre, which is located in Scarborough, provides a full spectrum of primary care and also addresses mental and dietary issues, patients having trouble with their feet, and operates a dental clinic.

In recent months, Toronto has been experiencing an influx of refugee claimants, including about 800 who were housed in two college residences before students returned to classes. 

The federal government is giving Toronto $11 million to help the city deal with the demands posed by the influx.

Research lead and clinical navigator at the Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Health Care Sumathy Rahunathan said they started noticing an increase about six years ago but the number picked up even more in the last 12 months. (CBC)

Rahunathan said changes at the federal level had pushed a lot of refugee claimants into a situation where they weren't able to access primary health care. She said the centre's doors are always open, but it could definitely use more resources, particularly staff, to cope with the demands.

"Starting in May, the centre was asked by the Red Cross to participate and help in providing medical care to about 400 new refugees that arrived in Scarborough through Quebec."

Most urgent needs

She says that the centre needs support from the health care community to avoid huge backlogs.

"If we can get more doctors onboard, and nurse practitioners onboard, it would be really great."

With files from Mathieu Simard and Mrinali Anchan