Medical clinics 'triaging' refugees staying in Ottawa hotels
Hundreds of Syrian refugees in Ottawa are getting a taste of Canada's first class medical system right to their door. Medical units are mobilizing in hotels that are housing the refugees. It would take time and money to transport all these refugees to seek the medical care they need.
So if you can't take them to see the nurse, you bring the nurse to them. Salwa Alobaid is getting her five kids ready for their medical appointment. They have been staying at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Ottawa for three weeks, along with dozens of other Syrian refugees. With that many in this close of contact, people are bound to get sick.
Fortunately, the family doesn't have far to go; just a short elevator ride to the medical clinic on the 11th floor.
“Open your mouth, make a sound,” nurse practitioner Paula Day tells 7-year-old Bayan, Salwa’s daughter. She has a sore throat and a bad cough.
Day is a nurse practitioner with the Somerset West Community Health Centre, providing primary care at the hotel days a week. Similar clinics are run at two other hotels where the refugees are being temporarily housed.
“Generally there hasn't been much access to medical care before coming to Canada,” Day says. She sees mostly seeing colds, flu and ear infections. But part of her job is also listening to the journeys these families have made.
“That piece is just as important,” says Day, “we are reassuring they're in a safe place and going to get health services.”
According to the Ottawa West Community Health Centre, “initial screening is done to prioritize health issues that may need to be addressed quickly, such as pregnancy and diabetes, and refugees can also get prescriptions for medications they need renewed. The goal is to ensure that while refugees are being temporarily housed, they get the right healthcare at the right place and in a timely way.”
Salwa, her husband and 5 kids were living in a refugee camp in Jordan for 3 years, after fleeing Syria. Salwa’s husband has polio and 2 ½ year old Mahmoud suffers from muscle spasms.
“We came for the safety and better education of the kids,” she says through a translator, “We were told people here in Canada treat people with sympathy.”
Between 11-hundred and 12-hundred Syrian refugees have settled in Ottawa so far. More than one hundred are currently staying at the Radisson, with more arriving this week.
Setting up a triage at the three hotels is a cost-effective way of keeping emergency visits down, says Merry Cardinal, the director of Primary Health Care with the Somerset West Community Health Centre, “We came on-site to triage,” she says, “and try to keep the kids out of emergency departments. If we're looking at the greater health care system, it would have been a much greater burden. The cost to be here (at the hotel) is a fraction of the cost for one emergency room visit.”
For those providing the care, like Cardinal and Day, it has been life changing.
“These are the kinds of things that happen in our career,” says Cardinal, “that we will look back on that bring us a lot of pride and reward.”