East Toronto groups unite to provide health care during winter surge


A network of service providers will provide co-ordinated care until March 2020

Naila Haji wanted her elderly father to get the flu shot, but without a family doctor able to come to his apartment to administer the vaccine, she wasn’t too sure how that could happen.

On Sunday afternoon, Haji’s 89-year-old father, Nurali Nanji, only had to travel as far as the lobby of his east-end building to get immunized against influenza, which can be deadly if contracted by a frail senior.

“Flu shots are really important, especially for seniors. In the winter seniors can be at greater risk for illness and those illnesses can sometimes be quite serious which can require them to go into hospital,” said Le-Ai Dela Cruz, a registered practical nurse who administered the vaccines during the Nov. 17 clinic.

“That is why we are doing these clinics, to help more people to get the flu shot so they can stay healthy this winter.”

Haji, who lives nearby and works in the finance department at Michael Garron Hospital (MGH), said this mobile service is a big help.

“It’s the best thing. I was worried how I would take him out in the cold,” she said.

Haji said her father, who speaks very limited English, is unstable on his feet due to having lost sensation in his toes from problems with his spinal cord. Venturing outside during the colder months where her dad could slip and fall and get seriously injured is something Haji tries her best to avoid.

Mr. Nanji was one of several older Toronto Community Housing tenants living at 1420 Victoria Park Ave. who benefitted from a mobile flu shot clinic run by VHA Home HealthCare, which is the largest provider of personal support services in the GTA.

Aside from offering free flu vaccines, the organization also offered residents in-home consultations with an occupational therapist who provided them with tips and resources to prevent falls.

This service is one of 25 initiatives in east Toronto designed to respond to the 2019 seasonal surge in need for health-care services. More than 30 health, community care and social service providers that make up the still-unofficial East Toronto Health Partners network are co-ordinating this community response, which will run from November to the end of March.

According to the network, some of the impacts of this surge in demand for seasonal care include a rise in so-called “hallway medicine” in hospitals; longer emergency department wait times and stays; delays in EMS service; increased demand on home and community care; and delayed access to long-term care homes.

Earlier this year, Michael Garron Hospital received just over $2.5 million from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to address the heightened need for health-care services during the colder months. Specifically, just over $1 million of this funding will be used to open 14 more beds and increase hospital-based capacity, while just over $1.5 million will be allocated to community-based surge projects.

“We’re excited as a hospital to be working closely with our community partners again during the winter surge. … The idea is to use resources to better support people at home and in the community,” said Mark Fam, Michael Garron Hospital’s vice-president of programs.

“We’re looking at this funding as really an opportunity to better serve the community. (East Toronto Health Partners network) is really excited to build a better health-care system for east Toronto.”

In October 2018, Michael Garron Hospital received $1.5 million from the province and was able set up 11 winter surge initiatives with the help of more than 10 community partners. Among other things, the funding was used to establish the ABC pediatric clinic to enhance emergency services at the hospital.

This year, the provincial funding guarantee came in earlier, allowing the local hospital and 30 partner organizations to sit down together and come up with twice as many ways to serve the community better during this high-needs period.

Some of this season’s services will include community flu clinics, a new pediatric short-stay unit at the hospital, and enhanced walk-in counselling during the ’12 Days of Holidays’ at WoodGreen Community Services.

“This is really about creating a health team to manage the (winter) surge. We’re looking at needs of the community as a whole and using this funding for directed care,” said Ashnoor Rahim, WoodGreen’s vice-president of community care.

“It’s all about giving people care in the community so they don’t have to come to the hospital.”

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