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New health clinic for vulnerable people opens in South Surrey

Clinic for people experiencing homelessness, other issues, runs once a week
A new walk-in clinic is running inside of Sources Food Bank for vulnerable populations, who face many barriers in accessing healthcare in their everyday lives. (File photo)

In a room inside a South Surrey food bank, medical services are now being offered to extremely vulnerable people who otherwise face many obstacles in accessing proper healthcare.

“There’s a real issue around people finding family physicians and people not having family physicians and that is something we’re all working on,” said Dr. Rogan Thavarajah.

“We have had some success in bringing family physicians to our community in the last few months and we’re only hopeful that that’s going to increase.”

This new space, however, is not intended to address that specific problem.

“The reason for this intervention is that we’re all aware that part of this crisis that we’ve been facing over the last few years is that our most vulnerable populations, people that would already perhaps struggle to find a family physician or struggle to fit into your everyday family practice, that those populations were struggling even more,” Thavarajah said.

After observing that a smaller group of marginalized people in the community do not seek health care services at traditional locations, even when they may be in desperate need, the White Rock-South Surrey Division of Family Practice has started a clinic that goes directly to that community to administer care.

As chair of the division, Thavarajah and his nurse colleague are just getting the new walk-in clinic off the ground, and have so far treated only a small number of early patients. Hosting the site is Sources Food Bank’s South Surrey location – a space that presents a unique opportunity for the doctor.

“I think health care has always traditionally been done in an office or in a hospital, or in that kind of setting.

“For certain populations, that doesn’t necessarily work. They’re never going to come,” the doctor has realized.

“When you have individuals that, for whatever reason, are reluctant to access medical services… it could be that they have bad experiences or they’ve traditionally never engaged or they have housing issues… or addiction issues or mental health issues,” said the doctor, who also works at Hilltop Medical Clinic in South Surrey.

“The hope is that by going to those populations, by going to the food bank and providing services there and using some of the existing relationships where there’s trust – trust with the people they’re dealing with at Sources – we can build and foster trust and provide services and try to help the population that (otherwise) wouldn’t be seeking medical attention.”

Clinic patients are also able to gain access to other services, depending on which barriers they are facing. For someone experiencing homelessness, nurses from Fraser Health’s IHART program are just a phone call away, as well as a social worker who works alongside the physician.

It’s inevitable that challenges will arise, but Thavarajah says they will tackle them as the clinic continues to operate.

Right now, the centre runs just once a week on Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., but going forward, the hope is to build out the clinic to become operational full time with a larger healthcare staff team providing service.

ALSO READ: Surrey’s homeless population has risen by 65% since 2020

Sobia Moman

About the Author: Sobia Moman

Sobia Moman is a news and features reporter with the Peace Arch News.
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