How We Braved the COVID-19 Storm

How We Braved the COVID-19 Storm

How Our Centre Became A Lifeline During The COVID-19 Crisis

Caption: Dr. Paul Caulford founder of the Canadian Centre for Refugee & Immigrant Healthcare in Scarborough, Toronto is setting up field tents with Global Medic to treat those facing barriers in receiving healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 5th, 2019, CCRIHC’s centre transformed its parking lot into an outdoor COVID-19 treatment clinic. Refugees and other vulnerable newcomers were sent to us by overwhelmed hospital ERs. Many had been denied treatment and turned away. New to Canada, they could not yet show proof of status and health coverage and did not have the $800 the ER required to treat them despite having symptoms of COVID.

It was snowing, it was cold, and it was chaotic. Patients’ medical histories were taken through rolled-down car windows with our masks on. Most came with a trusted family member or friend who acted as a translator. Our clinic became a refuge for newcomers caught in the unforgiving grip of COVID-19:  individuals stranded with expiring visas, new asylum seekers, and undocumented migrant workers, all facing the daunting challenge of navigating a healthcare pandemic.

Before long, our Centre was overwhelmed. Family physician clinics in the community were shutting down rapidly, and as a result, refugees and other newcomers desperate for health care more than doubled in our clinics. Throughout the pandemic, CCRIHC provided care to over 6,000 new patients.


Our Centre has forged strategic partnerships with local hospitals, the provincial government vaccine table, the United Way, and Shelter Services in response to the escalating need. 


We built outdoor clinics in tents provided and set up by Global Medic, where transmission rates were ten times lower than indoors. We also installed HVAC systems and negative pressure devices inside our facility and ultraviolet sterilization lights in each exam room as safety measures. These efforts, along with dedicated staff and volunteers who stepped forward, helped our clinics stay open.


The vaccination campaign was a monumental effort. CCRIHC, with support from hundreds of volunteers and the Scarborough Health Network, administered 70,000 COVID-19 vaccines to some of the most hard-to-reach arms, including refugees, undocumented migrant workers, the homeless, frontline factory workers, healthcare professionals, and residents throughout Scarborough and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).


Recognizing barriers faced by those unable to get out to vaccine centres, we also conducted over 9,000 house calls to shut-in disabled persons and isolated seniors and ensured no one was left behind.


Our initiative also extended beyond traditional settings, accomplished with volunteer nurses, physicians, and pharmacists. Volunteer retired police, firemen and others provided security and safety, managing the long lines. Together, we set up and operated over 200 pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinics and set up vaccine sites in seniors housing complexes, in places of worship, on street corners and in all Scarborough’s crowded homeless shelters where COVID-19 infection rates soared, frequently exceeding 90%.


The provincial government recognized our efforts and sought our expertise in establishing best practices for vaccinating marginalized communities. This comprehensive mobile community program exemplified our commitment to accessibility for all in our communities.


This experience underscores the critical role of CCRIHC in addressing public health crises and highlights the importance of inclusivity, partnership, and innovation in delivering care to those most in need. 


Our Centre’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic serves as a powerful reminder of what can be achieved when communities come together to support the most vulnerable among us, reinforcing our commitment to health equity for refugees and newcomers in Canada.

Let’s come together to provide a lifeline to refugees & asylum seekers inside our borders. If you want to join us and become part of the humanitarian solution, consider donating to the Canadian Centre for Refugee & Immigrant Healthcare.