Paul Asselin
​Paul Asselin started working on Toronto Rehab's Brain and Stroke inpatient unit in 1992, bringing his musical talents with him. On June 28, 2024, he'll retire after 32 years of service. (Photo: UHN)

By Catherine Danko

Music is Paul Asselin's go-to therapy.

For 32 years, he's worked as a social worker on Toronto Rehab's Brain and Stroke inpatient unit, and for the past four, has doubled as a musical performer.

"We call ourselves the TRI-Hards," says Paul, who formed the band with his colleagues in March 2020 to help "lift spirits" when things “got heavy" at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the band has played every Friday afternoon at lunchtime, taking song requests from patients and staff, performing more than 200 songs on the 9th floor lounge.

On June 28, 2024, Paul will retire from UHN after more than three decades – but he still has one more song to sing.

"It's called '9 South'," says Paul, who wrote the goodbye song in ode to the 9 South Brain and Stroke unit at Toronto Rehab, University Centre, where he's worked since he started in 1992, when it was still operating under the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

"When I say 9 South, I really mean that the song is for all the people that I've met there, the people that I've worked with – families, patients, caregivers, colleagues, and friends – all of us."

Paul never imagined that at the height of the pandemic – something he calls the most challenging period of his career – that his musical pastime would bring such joy to the hospital. And despite his "singing out of tune" and "playing out of time," the band always attracted lots of listeners and sounded great.

Though music is something Paul considers a serious hobby, it's not his career. From nine to five – some days longer – he's poured his heart and soul into the care he provides for his patients, always looking for ways to strengthen his team and himself as a social worker.

"Paul is truly exceptional," says Lauren Schwartz, Interim Manager, Inpatient Stroke Rehab at Toronto Rehab, who has worked closely with Paul since joining the stroke team as Service Coordinator in 2020.

"Paul is a strong patient advocate, but he also has a broader system awareness, which I think makes him an even stronger social worker," she says.

"He is the glue that holds the team together."

The "TRI-Hards," (L to ​R), Jennifer Shaw, Ruth Levin, Vanessa Ong and Paul Asselin, pictured in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. They initially formed the band to spread joy and bring a sense of community to Toronto Rehab's Brain and Stroke unit during that challenging time. (Photo: UHN)

Janet Newton, Clinical Vice President at UHN, says Paul has had on impact on the lives of many patients, families and staff.

"Paul is a valued team member who excels in his role and will be missed by many," she says.

"We are grateful for all his contributions over the years."

Though in rehab patients may not be under Paul's care for very long, he says that their impact is not lost on him.

"There's so many stories," says Paul, recalling the people he's met and cared for throughout his career, whether it's a single mother who became ill and now had to figure out childcare, or an immigrant who came to Canada in search of a better life.

"I've worked with people who have shown a lot of grace, strength and courage," he says.

"Seeing them be vulnerable, whether it's through their sadness, anger, fear or resiliency makes me feel privileged that I was able to help make things even a little bit better."

When asked what he's going to miss most about coming into work every day, Paul immediately thinks of the people.

"I'm going to miss the musical friends, patients, families, colleagues, including those who have passed on," he says.

"They have all played their part in making a better me."

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