Newcomers find piece of home and access much-needed services at New West clinic

Some newcomers to Canada are finding a little piece of home at Umbrella Multicultural Health Co-op.

Umbrella Co-op has a mission of providing access to affordable and holistic health-care services that are appropriate in culture and language for those without access to health security. Its membership is made up of individuals from refugee, immigrant, migrant and newcomer communities.

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Umbrella recently held an open house in celebration of a move into a larger space at 715 Carnarvon St. During the open house, visitors were give a glimpse into the impacts Umbrella has had on its members.

“I am very grateful for the clinic that helps us very much,” said a note written by one member. “We come to this country to work and would not like this clinic to disappear. The care of the volunteers and doctors is really good. I wish you to never stop helping us.”

Esther Hsieh, executive director, said newcomers may have language and cultural barriers that impact their ability to access health care, but Umbrella’s community health centre model helps bridge those gaps.

Cross cultural health brokers (CCHBs), who are bilingual/bicultural health workers, are at the heart of Umbrella’s work. They work with patients from their communities to access medical services, social services, and health promotion activities, while supporting the relationship between patients and family doctors.

Umbrella Co-op provides a variety of services including a family practice, where CCHBs and physicians work with patients in their communities to access medical and social services. It serves patients from Middle Eastern, Iranian/Afghan, Latin American and Eritrean communities.

“When we came to Canada as Syrian refugees, my husband and I were experiencing emotional and physical pain and suffering. The clinic was open to us, and protected us against our pain and diseases and gave us the hope of a healthy life, which we missed from our home country,” said a note from one member who attended the family practice. “The clinic only looked at us from a truly humanistic view. Our wonderful doctor was so patient and spent a lot of time listening to us. We are so grateful and satisfied. Our health is better now with the care and the protection provided by the clinic.”

Umbrella’s other programs include a pediatric consultation clinic that provides pediatric services to immigrant and refugee children (staffed by Middle Eastern, Iranian/Afghan, Latin American, and Eritrean CCHBs), and Umbrella Babies, which is a mom and babies group serving Spanish-language communities.

“Umbrella Co-op is a space full of good vibes and there are always persons supporting us with our doubts as newcomers,” said a member of Umbrella Babies. “It is important for me that this program U-Babies is in Spanish because it give me confidence. It makes me feel safe and in a trusted space.”

The Umbrella mobile clinic targets the unique needs of temporary foreign farm workers by sending a team, including physicians, physiotherapists, CCHBs and support workers, to locations in the Fraser Valley on Sundays to provide Spanish language medical services.

Zarif Akbarian, a member of Umbrella’s board of directors, arrived in Canada in 2015 and found his way to Umbrella when he faced multiple barriers trying to access health-care services for his young child. Umbrella worked with him and his family to “untangle a bureaucratic nightmare” so his son could access health-care services and to navigate the system at a time when their Medical Services Plan coverage hadn’t yet kicked in.

“I felt a sense of a community and trust. From the very beginning it was a very friendly environment,” he said. “I met with someone from my home community who was working with Umbrella as a cross cultural health worker.”

Like many newcomers, Akbarian, a trained medical doctor, was unable to practise his profession in Canada. He said Umbrella Multicultural Health Co-op was one of the organizations that played a “very significant role” in his family’s adjustment to their new home country.

Jim Sinclair, chair of the Fraser Health Authority board of directors, said Umbrella Co-op is a critical part of the region’s health-care system and is doing an incredible job.

“Health care is about advocacy. This is big complicated system with a lot of fancy gobbledygook in it, a lot of words that people don’t understand no matter how long they have been here,” he said. “It really helps to have people on your side, who understand the system and get you through it. I think that’s a really critical role you play. It’s not just in these four walls in this building that you play that role, it’s out in the bigger community. You have done an excellent job in doing that and should be applauded for doing that.”

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