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The atrium of Toronto Western Hospital (TW) is a busy place. As the heart of the hospital, it plays host to patients, visitors, staff and many regulars from the surrounding community who make visiting part of their daily routine.
"TW is a place that welcomes people and is inviting for them to stay," says Andrea Sharp, Strategy Lead, Toronto Western. "I'm really proud to work for an organization where people feel so welcome and safe in our building."
Though it's nice that so many feel comforted inside the hospital's walls, one reality is that, for some, they have nowhere else to go. It's a fact, however, that's created circumstances for an innovative opportunity – one that builds the connections and relationships to address the many factors that play into someone's well-being.
In early December 2019, Progress Place – a community organization that supports recovery from mental illness through community involvement – established a presence in the atrium, staffing a kiosk across from the Security Office to help link patients and visitors with support if they are interested. The kiosk is open once a week from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
This work aligns with UHN's Social Medicine Program, which helped deliver a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) last year between UHN, the City of Toronto and United Way Greater Toronto.
Social factors such as poverty and loneliness strongly contribute to chronic disease and poor health outcomes, and both the MOU and the Social Medicine Program are focused on tightening community partnerships to better address these social factors.
"We have a moral obligation to think and respond differently in healthcare – especially since we know health is created and maintained outside hospital walls," says Dr. Andrew Boozary, Executive Director of Health and Social Policy at UHN.
"Public spaces need to be redesigned by patients, caregivers and community members."
Criss Habal-Brosek, Executive Director, Progress Place, says "we're really excited to work in collaboration with Toronto Western on this project.
"We've partnered with UHN for many years on different projects, and appreciate how much the organization values and respects what community organizations such as ours have to offer, as well as the need for wrap around services to ensure each patient's successful recovery," she says.
'An opportunity for members to socialize and build friendships'
Progress Place's service model strives to develop the skills and confidence of their clients, whom they call members, in order to help them return to meaningful roles in their communities. Members can access services, such as counselling, supported employment, education, housing, tutoring, by voluntarily participating in and operating Progress Place as part of their recovery, this process is supported by staff and members working together.
"The program is meant to emulate typical life," says Criss. "And it's also an opportunity for members to socialize and build friendships."
Progress Place has about 800 active members. It helped approximately 240 return to work and more than 60 return to school in the last year.
The initiative itself at TW was made possible through another type of connection – one between people.
"I saw an opportunity to connect Progress Place – a place that fully acknowledges the different supports that are required to recover from mental illness – into the work that the hospital has begun to examine in terms of looking at the social determinants of health," says Sheena Melwani, who has been on the board of Progress Place for the past three years.
Six degrees of separation brought the kiosk closer to reality: Sheena introduced Criss to Anjum Chagpar whom Sheena had worked with at UHN's Healthcare Human Factors. Anjum, who had previously met Andrew at a conference and was also involved in Social Medicine work at UHN, then introduced Criss to Andrew.
"It was Progress Place's model of care that really got everyone excited and looking for ways to partner with UHN," Sheena explains. "It's acknowledging that we can't solve problems in healthcare by simply treating the disease."
When Andrew mentioned the idea to TW Vice-President and Site Lead, Janet Newton, she knew the site's strong presence within the community made it the perfect home for the kiosk.
"As a hospital we provide certain services on the continuum of care," says Janet. "But the city's social services are imperative to helping people and supporting their overall health and well-being.
"With all the foot traffic in our atrium, TW is an ideal place to connect to the larger system that contributes to overall health."
Though the kiosk has only been open a few weeks, things are going well so far.
"We've had a lot of interest from community members, patients and staff," says Andrea, who has been facilitating the integration of the kiosk on behalf of TW. "I'm looking forward to seeing what comes of it."