Heath-care workers cleared to work in Canada lost in bureaucratic limbo

Patricia Kamssor, who lives in a refugee camp in Kenya, is among 28 international workers chosen to staff a nursing home facility in Mahone Bay, N.S. She was supposed to arrive by the end of March but is still waiting word from the government.

BEING A SOCIALIST is never easy—particularly not in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia these days—not given how the government fails to ease the shameful shortage of health-care workers in the tiny community of 1000 barely an hours drive south of Halifax.

Being a socialist requires an abiding faith in the glimmering possibilities of governments to do the right thing for people. Reality constantly pushes in to challenge that faith, of course, but the socialist possibility still glimmers—in spite of the governments we keep getting. But the folly of such a faith is on full display in Mahone Bay today.

The fact is federal government agencies are an active part of the healthcare crisis problem there—not part of the solution. The very agencies charged with improving the delivery of healthcare in Mahone Bay are maddeningly disinterested in getting on with it.

Callous bait and switch

The federal Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot (EMPP), is intended to recruit skilled refugees to help ease Canada’s shortage of workers. Employers in Nova Scotia have made 121 job offers under the program—the greatest number of any province—but only 17 of those people have actually arrived.

MacLeod Group Health Services, which owns and operates seven nursing homes across Nova Scotia, is awaiting the arrival of 28 international health-care workers to help staff a new facility it is building in Mahone Bay. The company was expecting the first six to arrive by the end of March. They didn’t.

Patricia Kamssor is one of them. She is still in a refugee camp in northwestern Kenya, still waiting for government bureaucrats to complete their paper work. Kamssor  has no idea when that will be.

People in the community know they need health-care workers and are excited to welcome newcomers — 88 of the town’s 1000 residents showed up at a community meeting about the program on Feb. 2, offering to help.

But there is now a growing sense of skepticism as to when or if the workers will ever arrive in their town.

“It’s like one big callous game of bait and switch,” says a resident who works at The Teazer, a popular village gift shop. “The government gets our hopes up, sets up the program, gets everyone to jump through all the hoops and over all the hurdles, tells the refugees to pack their bags, and then leaves them, and us, waiting and waiting and waiting. It not fair to them or to us.”

Answer came there none

The workers can’t come to Canada until they get their permanent resident status—something only the federal government can give—and something it isn’t doing. Why they aren’t recedes farther into the bureaucratic fog every time they offer an answer.

A potted statement from the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) states their aim is to process the majority of cases linked to the program within six months or less. They blame delays on a number of factors, including missing information, challenges obtaining the necessary exit permits to travel to Canada and delays getting medical exams.

Patricia Kamssor and Abdifatah Sabriye, two workers in Kenya, have been working their way through the EMPP program for two years. In April, each of them received emails from IRCC asking for their offers of employment letters and documentation proving their educational backgrounds. The two informed the bureaucrats they had submitted that information months earlier.

The emails warned the candidates that if they didn’t provide the information within 30 days, IRCC would assume they were no longer interested in admission to Canada and would “proceed accordingly with the refusal of your application.”

Both Kamssor and Sabriye sent the requested documentation again on May 1. Now, they’re back to waiting.

All is not lost

Despite its impenetrable bureaucracy and maddening delays, the program can help. Bahati Maganjo is a living example.

Maganjo arrived in Canada in June 2021, after a two-year wait in Kenya. Once here she immediately began working as a continuing care assistant at Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow, N.S.

Maganjo and her family fled the 1994 Rwandan genocide to live as refugees in Kenya. She says her passion for working in health care is fuelled by the reality of growing up on the doorstep of war.

She is now participating in the province’s “bridging program” and is one month away from becoming a registered nurse.

“I know what it feels like. I know that someone’s life stops in anticipation of what’s to come,” she said in a recent interview with CBC News at Aberdeen Hospital.

She’s also deeply involved in advocacy work and is calling on those involved in the EMPP at every level to see the “urgency and humanity” of the people still waiting, as well as the increasing need for help in Canada’s health-care system.

Cold comfort

There is little comfort in all this for a socialist—except for proof that individuals still can, and do, behave with humanity and humility, even when subjected to the tender mercies of institutions that don’t. As well as the rueful reflection that while the public sector can sometimes stumble its way to doing the right thing, the private sector never even tries.

So, if doing right by us is a choice between Galen Weston and a government elected by the people to do the people’s business, I’m sticking with the people. It may not be pretty but it’s still better than any of the alternatives.

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