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Dr. Tim Holland, medical lead at the Newcomer Health Clinic in Halifax, on Aug. 9.Keith Doucette/The Canadian Press

A provincial funding boost tripling the annual budget of a Halifax clinic for refugees is being hailed as crucial at a time when the province is experiencing regular increases in newcomers.

Dr. Tim Holland, the lead doctor at the Newcomer Health Clinic, told reporters Tuesday the annual increase of $684,000 is a “game-changer” for his facility. The funding was included in the 2022-23 provincial budget and will bring the total annual budget for the clinic to more than $1-million.

“More than 10 per cent of Haligonians are now newcomers and we are hitting record immigration growth every year,” Holland said. “This investment places the health clinic on long-term sustainable footing to be able to meet the needs of incoming refugees for the foreseeable future.”

The increased financial support will enable the clinic to hire a social worker, a family practice nurse and a co-ordinator to help families navigate the province’s health system, he said.

The clinic provides preventive and primary care to government-assisted refugees, privately sponsored refugees and refugee claimants, and it has 2,715 patients. They are able to access medical services such as vaccinations and treatment for diabetes. The facility works to transfer patients to a family practice in the community within two years.

“There are still a myriad of challenges facing newcomer health,” Holland said. “It will take ongoing dedication to be able to ensure that the entire health-care system can provide equitable access to newcomers.”

According to the provincial government, Nova Scotia welcomed 9,025 new permanent residents in 2021, a record-breaking number that surpassed the previous high by 19 per cent.

Liberal member of the legislature Rafah DiCostanzo pushed for increased support for the clinic during last fall’s legislature sitting.

DiCostanzo, who represents the culturally diverse Halifax riding of Clayton Park West, said while the clinic temporarily gives refugees the basic initial care they need, patients usually struggle when they move on to the wider health system.

“Very few doctors will take refugees because of the language issue, because of the time it takes and the knowledge it takes,” she said.

DiCostanzo added that the situation is exacerbated because most doctors’ offices and community walk-in clinics are currently “bursting at the seams.”

According to the province, 105,187 Nova Scotians were on the waiting list for a family doctor as of Aug. 1. That’s about 10.4 per cent of the province’s population.

Health Minister Michelle Thompson said it’s expected that through increased recruiting efforts, progress in reducing the physician wait-list will be seen over the “next several months.”

“I would like it to be quick as well and it is just taking some time,” she said. “But I am very hopeful that we have the right vision in place now for us to make some appreciable change.”

She added that strengthening the newcomer clinic is important because of the role it plays in the overall health system. “It helps alleviate system pressures for sure, but more importantly, it provides really timely person-centred care,” Thompson said.

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