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VCH staff care for Syrian refugees


Feelings of loss

He was one of the 60,000 Vietnamese ‘boat people’ who came to Canada in the late 70’s/early 80’s fleeing the fall of Saigon. Now Dr. Soma Ganesan, Vancouver’s Head of Mental Health, gives back by helping other refugees cope.

Out of his personal experience and work with refugees helping them cope with trauma, Ganesan says, “The loss of their background, culture, family and status…that continues to linger on in their lives in the first few years of settlement and we need to deal with that.”

Staff helping refugees

Dr. Ganesan is a part of a broad team of Vancouver Coastal Health staff providing health care for refugees, including those coming from Syria. Physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, social worker and consultants all help to see to the health care needs of refugees. 

Most of the team is based at the specialized Bridge Clinic, located within Evergreen Community Health Centre in East Vancouver. They’re already starting to care for people coming from Syria.

First point of contact

Although a basic health screening will take place prior to refugees’ arrival in Canada, Dr. Mei-ling Wiedmeyer, Medical Coordinator for the Clinic, says the specialized team at Bridge Clinic is the first point of contact with our health care system for most Syrians coming to B.C.

“Bridge is sending outreach teams to where the Syrian refugees are staying, to get a health history, do some initial screening and then triage people according to how much and how quickly they need medical attention. Once their initial needs are met, we will then work with other local health authorities and organizations to transition them to local health care services in the communities where they will eventually reside,” Wiedmeyer says.

She adds, “The clinic supports hundreds of refugees every year and the majority of all refugees arriving in B.C. are first assessed through Bridge Clinic.”

Bridge Clinic stats

  • In 2014, the Bridge Clinic saw 1,824 clients.

  • The clinic currently has 1,300 active clients, seeing between 18 and 30 clients a day.

  • Approximately 80% of patient visits require interpreters.

  • Most of the refugees who arrived in 2015 were from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Eritrea, Somalia and Myanmar.

  • Refugees often arrive in poor health because of years spent in refugee camps and war-torn countries. As a result, they may experience malnutrition, intestinal parasites, chronic infections, chronic diseases, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • Refugees encounter barriers anyone moving to a new community face, including poverty, language, high levels of stress and difficulties navigating the Canadian government and community services.


VCH Fact Sheet on Refugee Care
Bridge Clinic site for clinicians
SOURCE: VCH staff care for Syrian refugees ( )
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