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Halifax newcomer health clinic on ‘sustainable long-term footing’ thanks to new funding

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Dr. Tim Holland gets emotional thinking about a time last fall when Halifax’s Newcomer Health Clinic had to stop accepting new patients.

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

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

“These are tears of joy.

“You don’t need to be a refugee health specialist to understand that people fleeing war and violence will often face unique health challenges that can’t be addressed by emergency 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 more as new refugees arrive.

The funding will help hire more staff

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

That’s on top of the money the province gave earlier this year to ensure that the doctors working in the clinic are 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 be working at the site.

Thompson said it’s hard to overstate how important the clinic’s services are to the people they serve and the role it plays in ensuring proper care.

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

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

The clinic’s goal is to transition people into permanent family practices within a year or two after their name appears on the waiting list. This has proved a challenge, however, as the log for people waiting for a placement now stands at 105,000.This means that some patients are staying at the clinic longer than planned.

The waiting list for primary care an ongoing challenge

Thompson said the government has been working for almost a year on “foundational work” around primary care and she believes people will see progress “in the next few months”.

“I really hope that we have the right vision in place now so that we can move forward and start making some tangible changes,” she said.

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

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

“That’s the point now,” she said. “Most doctors” [offices] and walk-in clinics are bursting at the seams.”

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