Ottawa cuts to refugee health care almost costs man his vision

Posted by admin on Aug 21st, 2012

Nicholas Keung
Immigration Reporter–ottawa-cuts-to-refugee-health-care-almost-costs-man-his-vision

Daniel Garcia Rodriguez would have permanently lost his vision from a chronic retinal detachment if it wasn’t for a Toronto surgeon who defied Ottawa’s order not to operate on the Aurora man’s eye.

Garcia Rodriguez was almost certain to go blind, after Ottawa terminated the interim federal health coverage of the Colombian refugee and many others like him as of June 30.

Repeated pleas by Dr. David Wong, an eye surgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital, for an exemption for Garcia Rodriguez had fallen on deaf ears at Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

On Monday, out of desperation to save the man’s deteriorating vision, Wong went ahead with the surgery. The bulk of the $10,000 cost will be absorbed by his own practice and the fiscally-strapped hospital.

Similar cases are bound to pop up across the city and country, critics say, with the $100-million federal health cuts on refugees inevitably absorbed by the provinces.

“Our allegiance is to the patient,” said Wong, who already has another similar case. “If the situation continues and becomes an explosion of patients in similar predicaments, which we are starting to see, it’s going to be bad for patient care. Something has to give.”

Garcia Rodriguez said he started having vision problems in his right eye in July and was referred to Dr. Wong earlier this month.

“I couldn’t read or even watch TV with that one eye,” said the 33-year-old, who came here with his Venezuelan-born wife via the United States in October 2007 and filed a refuge claim based on persecution by paramilitaries in Colombia.

“We’ve made a life here. We are raising our (Canadian-born) daughter here and have lived according to the laws of this country. Now we feel abandoned.”

The couple had their joint refugee hearing in January. The wife’s claim was accepted, but the husband’s was denied.

On June 30, Garcia Rodriguez lost his health care coverage, as did other failed refugee claimants under the new federal health cuts. He is piggybacking an application to stay in Canada on his wife’s permanent resident status, but that has yet to come through.

“The Conservative government should not play chicken with somebody’s vision,” said Dr. Philip Berger, a spokesperson for Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, a grassroots advocacy group critical of Ottawa’s refugee health cuts.

“It is not a game. It is people’s lives. It is hideous and outrageous that the government keeps saying refugees are getting gold-plated health care, better than what Canadians get.”

Berger was referring to comments made by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who had said the government’s intention was “to ensure that those who come to Canada as asylum seekers from abroad do not receive better health-care coverage than Canadians.”

Both Garcia Rodriguez and his wife have been employed since arrival, as a security equipment specialist and financial adviser respectively, but said they couldn’t afford the $10,000 the surgery would cost. (They now have to fork out $1,600 for the operation.)

“These people have already come from some most unfortunate backgrounds and now they are going to be put further behind,” said Wong. “It’s just so unfair.”

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