Promoting better refugee health outcomes with the Cultural Health Navigator program

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Universal healthcare is a value that many Canadians hold with high regard as a representation of Canada’s dedication to equality and caring for others. For the most part the healthcare system functions well to provide all Canadians with the care they need, but at times, the vastness of the system makes it inaccessible and intimidating even to those born and raised in Canada. If you are a newcomer to Canada with limited English knowledge and social connections, navigation challenges may deter you from seeking healthcare altogether.

Cultural gaps in healthcare

The Global Gathering Place has worked in the area of newcomer health since 2014 through our Providing Access to Healthcare (PATH) program. During this time, GGP found that difficulties in accessing healthcare disproportionately affects new refugees, and that additional support was needed.

Funded primarily by the Saskatoon Community Foundation in conjunction with various other funders, we launched the Cultural Health Navigator (CHN) program under the PATH umbrella. GGP identifies and trains “Cultural Health Navigators” who have a similar language and cultural background as our new refugee clients to provide not only language interpretation for these clients, but also cultural mediation, advocacy, and other support as needed during these clients’ interactions with the healthcare system.

PATH staff have trained nine Cultural Health Navigators and many are actively working in the field.  The Navigators come from a variety of cultural backgrounds and speak languages including Arabic, Tigrinya, Amharic, Afar, Saho, Kirundi, and Swahili.

Initial responses to the program

Since the program began, the CHNs have reported connecting with clients in meaningful ways due to having similar experiences when settling in Canada. Health literacy is a part of CHN training, so the CHNs and clients often have conversations about a variety of health topics, along with the many other settlement topics that inevitably arise.

Some clients have expressed that they have become more comfortable going to medical appointments since being paired with a CHN. Having someone from their own cultural and linguistic background to work with them has enabled these clients to slowly become more open to engaging in their health.

The knowledge gap affects both parties, the client and the healthcare provider, so another important role of the Navigators is educating providers on the client’s cultural context in order to promote greater mutual understanding. Overall feedback from healthcare providers has been positive; several have called the CHN program a necessary and helpful service.

We are excited about the success of the program thus far and will continue to monitor both clients’ and healthcare providers’ experiences in relation to the program.

This post was written by Joyce Reimer, Cultural Health Navigator Facilitator at the Global Gathering Place. For more information about the CHN or PATH programs, please reach out to media@globalgatheringplace.com.

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