“From what I can tell, they seem very thankful and grateful to be able to receive the services we’re providing for them,” says Rob Elfar, a Public Health nurse with Saskatoon Health Region who began working at a community health clinic for Syrian refugees in January 2016.

“These clinics are a smart way to provide health care to this group, because it’s a one-stop shop for healthcare services,” adds Elfar.

Rob Elfar, registered nurse

Rob Elfar, registered nurse

The clinics have been organized  through a collaborative effort between the Global Gathering Place, Saskatoon Community Clinic, local doctors Dr. Mahli Brindamour and Dr. Yvonne Blonde,  the Open Door Society, and Saskatoon Health Region’s Population and Public Health Department, Mental Health and Addictions Services, Primary Health and Chronic Disease Management.

These clinics are being held every Monday night and Saturday morning and afternoon. At the clinics, the Syrian immigrants have access to family doctors, general practitioners, nurse practitioners and registered nurses who are providing a range of services from head-to-toe assessments, including eye and ear exams, to blood work, x-rays (if required), immunizations and follow-up appointments. Mental Health and Addictions Services and Chronic Disease Management services are also available by referral.

The Region’s Population and Public Health department has set up a station at the clinics to provide immunizations.

“We’re giving four to five, sometimes six vaccinations per person,” Elfar says.

Immunizations may include vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella; chicken pox for eligible children under 12; meningitis; polio; tetanus pertussis, and diphtheria; pneumococcal and influenza.

On Monday nights, the health providers are typically seeing two families per clinic, and during the eight-hour clinics on Saturdays, Elfar says four families are typically seen.

Although most of the families do not speak English, a language barrier is not a problem for Elfar, who grew up speaking Arabic.

“My father is Lebanese and my mother is Jordanian, so I learned the language at a very young age,” says Elfar. “I also lived in Jordan for about three years in Grades 9, 10 and 11. My mother’s family lived in Amman, so we moved there and attended school.”

Community members who speak Arabic have also been volunteering at the clinics through the Open Door Society. And MCIS language services, the Region’s vendor, also provides certified translation of immunization documents.

When Elfar is working at the clinics, he says he and his team of public health nurses, nurse clinicians and admin staff, who help with initial intake, processing and data entry, have a good system going.

“I communicate in Arabic with the families on informed consent, vaccine education and vaccine administration. I help translate information back to English to the people I’m working with, so they understand what’s being said and what’s going on. I also want to make sure the families know that at any given point, they’re free to talk to us and to explain any concerns they may have. If they have questions or don’t know who to turn to, I want them to know they can lean on us,” says Elfar.

“Some of the family members understand a few words in English, and they can say basic things like ‘thank you’ and ‘hello’, but for the most part, we haven’t seen anyone who understands English well, especially medical terminology,” he adds.

At the end of one appointment, Elfar remembers that “one man came up to me and asked how to say ‘bread’ in English, because he wanted to tell the taxi to stop at a bakery so he could buy bread for his family.”

It’s moments like these, Elfar says, that remind him the clinics are about more than just health care.

The clinics will continue until the end of February and possibly into March.