Small team, big impact: PRAIDA nurses offer care and support to asylum seekers

Members of the PRAIDA nursing team at PRAIDA headquarters (left to right): Isabelle Pelletier, Farah Datus, Mia Roy-Bourdages, Vienna Valeriani. Not in the photo: Awatif Aarbaoui, Armelle Saint-Preux, Céline Dumas
Members of the PRAIDA nursing team at PRAIDA headquarters (left to right): Isabelle Pelletier, Farah Datus, Mia Roy-Bourdages, Vienna Valeriani. Not in the photo: Awatif Aarbaoui, Armelle Saint-Preux, Céline Dumas

Small team, big impact: PRAIDA nurses offer care and support to asylum seekers

When asylum seekers arrive in Montreal, some of the first healthcare professionals they meet are nurse clinicians from our CIUSSS. The nurses belong to a team that gives help and guidance to newcomers within 72 hours of their arrival.

“It’s a small team that does big things!” says Marie-Eve Boulanger, Interim Coordinator at the Regional Program for the Settlement and Integration of Asylum Seekers, or PRAIDA.

In 2017, the unprecedented influx of asylum seekers to Montreal put PRAIDA to the test. Many of the newcomers required healthcare services for matters ranging from treating a fever to tackling chronic illness.

But they didn’t know where to turn.

That’s where PRAIDA stepped in. At first, the team evaluated pregnant women and referred them to the appropriate service when needed. Then, starting in 2018, a team of five nurses and a group leader began offering vaccinations and assistance out of the YMCA Residence in downtown Montreal, as well as at PRAIDA headquarters on Saint Denis St.

Since then, the PRAIDA nurses’ role has grown. Besides vaccinations for children and adults, day-to-day activities include evaluating and assessing the needs of newcomers, referring them to the correct resource, and educating them on the healthcare services available to them.

With about 100 asylum seekers of all ages arriving at PRAIDA each day, the nurses’ job isn’t an easy one. A simple vaccination may become complicated without a vaccination booklet on hand. A medication renewal from another country can involve having to search for its Quebec equivalent. And assessing a sleep disorder becomes complicated if it entails post-traumatic stress.

What’s more, many people don’t speak English or French. Therefore, interpreters are needed.

“My work is important because it helps a vulnerable population navigate the healthcare system and offers support that meets their healthcare needs,” says Vienna Valeriani, a PRAIDA team nurse. She feels that she is an advocate for asylum seekers and that her job takes a holistic approach to care.

Once the nursing team has fulfilled its mandate, users are referred to a community resource such as a CLSC or Family Medicine Group (FMG) for follow up. PRAIDA has successfully established partnerships with a host of resources in Montreal, including the YMCA, the Multicultural Clinic at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, as well as social workers and physicians who treat asylum seekers.

The follow-up at family medicine clinics was made possible through a pilot project by our CIUSSS along with the Regional Department of General Medicine (DRMG). Because PRAIDA’s nurses have already given the asylum seekers initial care, they ensure that the outside clinics get the information they need.

“CIUSSS staff should be aware that a nurse has already done her share of the work (with asylum seekers) and that they can always contact PRAIDA with any questions they may have,” Ms. Boulanger says.

Despite PRAIDA’s far reach, it remains unknown to many, she says. “What the nurses do is impressive.”

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