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I have learned over a long career that when you make a
mistake, you step forward, own it and then move on.
Recently we installed a grate over the vent outside
Toronto General’s Emergency Department. The grate is designed to prevent
people from using the vent as a bed and, as I’ve come to learn, it is termed
hostile architecture. It has prevented people who are homeless from using
the grate to keep warm and, given our responsibility to provide compassionate
care, it has indeed been seen as hostile and not something a hospital should be
doing, given the care we provide to everyone who comes through our doors.
The grate was installed because the area is high
traffic with ambulances, cars and people all using the Gerrard Street
entrance. We were also seeing garbage and needles left around the grate
which required attention and raised safety concerns because of the
needles. But, in solving that problem, we created the impression that we
are unfeeling and unconcerned about the needs of the homeless.
Of course, this isn’t true. People at UHN are
kind, compassionate and provide daily care for people who don’t have a
home. And, you let us know that you believed we had made the wrong
decision about installing the grate.
So, I am writing to let you know that you’ve been
heard. We will remove the grate, work Security and Facilities to
make sure that the area is safe and secure, and work with our staff in the
Emergency Department to see if there is more that can be done to get additional
support for people who don’t have a place to live. I certainly recognize
that this a problem that is bigger than UHN, but I want you to know that
people’s concerns and compassion have made a difference. My thanks to all
of you and to my colleagues for their work in stepping back and thinking about
new solutions to a very difficult scenario.