Waterloo Region program that offers interpreters to refugees at risk of losing funding

A local program that offers assistance and interpreters to refugees is at risk of losing its funding.

The pilot program by the K-W Multicultural Centre, which is now used in other cities, focuses on making sure refugees can go to the doctor and have communication between the two of them.

“If we have somebody, say with chest pain, trying to characterized whether it is from your stomach, your lungs, or your heart can be difficult enough for regular patients in English,” said Dr. Neil Arya, the Centre for Family medicine Refugee Health Clinic director.

Interpreters in the program go through more than 200 hours of training to be able to explain medical terminology.

“It’s not just about the language barrier about them not knowing English,” said interpreter Doha Shahin. “Some of these refugees are illiterate in their own language, so they can’t read or write Arabic.”

Ontario Health has been providing $300,000 a year in funding to help Waterloo Region translators assist with about 800 medical appointments a month.

“Originally it was just primary care, but it was expanded to mental health and to some specialists,” said Lucia Harrison, CEO of K-W Multicultural Centre.

However, the three-year contract for funding ends Oct. 31.

“Ontario Health continues to work with our partners to find innovative solutions for the continuation of translation/interpreter services in the region,” a statement reads in part. “To avoid service disruption, we have committed to covering the costs for the month of November as we continue our discussion with the centre.”

K-W Multicultural Centre now worries that newcomers for the program will decline.

“That was good news [about funding for November], but of course it’s very short term and we are really hopeful, based on the success of this program, that it will be extended on a longer-term basis,” said Harrison. “A quarter of our population are immigrants and refugees.”

Dr. Arya says the language barrier and the loss or decline of the program could end up costing taxpayers in the long run.

“Without having property interpretation, things will be misdiagnoses or found at an advanced stage,” he said.