Newsy / Ben Schamisso

This Canadian Clinic Treats Uninsured Refugees And Immigrants For Free

A volunteer clinic in Ontario has treated more than 35,000 people from 122 different countries since it opened in 1999.

By Ben Schamisso | October 19, 2016

"We want to ensure that everyone new to Canada gets the health care they need when they need it, unstintingly and without judgment of their circumstances," said Paul Caulford, co-founder and medical director of the Canadian Volunteer Clinic. The health program is a twice-a-week walk-in clinic for the uninsured. It's part of The Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Health Care in Ontario.

"When they need mental health services, when they are victims of torture, when there's PTSD, they are either turned away or they're charged because they don't participate in the federal health program," Caulford said.

Canada has universal health care, yet it's estimated that hundreds of thousands of people are uninsured due to their immigration status.

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"You'll see a lot of chronic conditions: diabetes, hypertension, heart-disease," said Sumathy Rahunathan, the clinic's coordinator. "We're making sure that people don't need to use the emergency room. We're about 45 minutes in, and 24 people have already registered tonight."

Since it opened in 1999, the clinic has treated more than 35,000 people from 122 different countries. A vast number of patients are children and pregnant women.

"It doesn't matter how much money you make. It doesn't matter at all," Caulford said. "You're just one of the crew, and when you get sick, you get taken care of. That's a very compelling argument to care about each other."

Rahunathan added: "It's incredibly humbling to see what almost 100 percent of the patients have gone through to be here, and it puts everything into perspective. I don't have problems in comparison."

Caulford said: "They are on the run from violence and war. How hard is it to lend a helping hand? We're watching history unfold in some of the most compelling ways.

"Nobody could see the searing images of that little boy on that beach and not feel deeply compelled and moved to never see that again. This is our call to action. This is our time to not be a benchwarmer."

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