Connecting newcomers to a healthy start in Canada
Every month, 50-70 newcomers to Canada connect with Sherbourne Health’s Newcomer Connector Deepika Anandkumar for help navigating health and social services, such as primary care, mental health counselling, access to healthy food, and settlement support.
“Sometimes they’ll be asking what general supports or health care they can access locally, which I can direct to our nurse practitioner,” says Deepika. “Other times, they’ll have an ailment they want to see a specialist for or a specific problem, like issues with housing or needing an employment agency referral.”
Her guidance can help newcomers learn about what resources are available to them, overcome language barriers, and instill confidence in navigating the health care system on behalf of their families. This role collaborates with departments across Sherbourne Health and includes services for our priority populations with intersecting identities, like newcomers who are 2SLGBTQ and/or experiencing homelessness.
During the colder months, she’s noticed a surge in demand for help.
“I thought that requests would be slower during the holidays, but my schedule in December was absolutely packed. Instead, I saw an increase in people coming in for walk-in appointments,” she says. She believes that newcomers who are experiencing their first winter in Canada may be facing a difficult time with seasonal health stressors, in particular, the common cold, flu and COVID-19.
Getting health needs met when what’s available in a new country is unknown can make access to healthcare challenging. As Statistics Canada observes, newcomers are usually in better health than Canadian-born residents on arrival, but their quality of health worsens the longer they stay in Canada. Called the ‘Healthy Immigrant Effect’, several factors can contribute to this decline. Researchers from a McMaster University study found that during their year of arrival, newcomers with chronic conditions considered symptom management a low priority in their lives. With so many adjustments, like settling in a new country, learning a new language, finding employment, and culture shock, remembering to take medication for a condition like diabetes can take a backseat.
Many of the service users who access Sherbourne Health’s newcomer connector services can rely on Deepika to help them connect with the right service providers at the right time. This form of support can help them get services quicker, thanks to her knowledge of partner organizations.
The work that Sherbourne Health’s newcomer connector accomplishes isn’t going unnoticed. Many newcomers tell Deepika they learned about her through word-of-mouth in their downtown east neighbourhood and increased outreach efforts from The Corner, which Sherbourne partners with for many programming initiatives for newcomers. Deepika splits her time providing services on-site at Sherbourne Health and The Corner.
Most who book appointments with her are parents who want their families to see family doctors. For one father, Deepika was able to connect him with primary care and settlement services. Afterwards, he decided to volunteer with The Corner; most service users she sees are eager to connect with their neighbourhood through volunteering.
Deepika was also able to introduce his wife and children to the highly attended newcomer workshops she supervises. Facilitated by community ambassadors, newcomers are invited to participate in weekly recreational activities like yoga or art therapy.
“They can chat about whatever stress is on their mind while they draw and paint,” says Deepika. “We sometimes invite special speakers too. One time, a counsellor gave a presentation that the kids really liked, they kept raising their hands to ask questions about mental health.”
One Sherbourne initiative, Food for Good Market Greens, operates out of The Corner as a weekly affordable produce market for locals. After hearing about her clients’ worries about rising food costs, Deepika saw an opportunity to address it via the market. She started gathering unbought produce from the market to offer low-cost food hampers for the newcomer service users who access her services. For clients on limited incomes, these hampers can alleviate their food insecurity.
As someone with lived experience and as a former volunteer of The Corner herself, Deepika values how much the community trusts Sherbourne Health’s newcomer connector to support them and their neighbours.
“Someone came into the office the other day. I asked him, ‘When did you land in Canada?’” she recounts. “To my surprise, he replied ‘Two days ago. Can I talk to the newcomer connector?’ I’m very happy that people want to be connected.”