Alison Seto, (L), a project analyst with UHN's Centre for Mental Health, holds Monty, a hairless Canadian sphynx, while Amy Yvorchuk, a registered pharmacy technician in Inpatient Pharmacy, spends some time with JT, a golden retriever. (Photos: UHN)

Four-legged therapy helps TeamUHN de-stress

Dogs or cats? For Amy Yvorchuk, registered pharmacy technician, Inpatient Pharmacy, the answer to this age-old question was both when she attended a pet therapy pop-up event hosted by the Wellness@UHN team last month.

The event featured JT, a sweet-natured golden retriever and former champion show dog. He was joined by Monty, a stoic, hairless Canadian sphynx with an Instagram account.

"I love the concept of pet therapy and signed up as soon as I could," says Amy. "It is really motivating to me as a method of stress relief, especially now that a lot of the COVID initiatives hosted in the early stages of the pandemic have died down."

In the waiting area, TeamUHN members percolated with anticipation, eagerly awaiting their turn. Every 10 minutes groups of four would enter the designated space to play and cuddle with the animals.

The benefits of pet therapy are widely acknowledged, with studies highlighting its ability to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and enhance emotional well-being.

Amy attested to the positive impact on her own state of mind after ruffling JT's ears and stroking Monty's belly. 

"I feel a lot more calm and confident as I begin my work today," she says.

JT and Monty are part of Therapeutic Paws of Canada (TPOC), an organization that certifies therapy animals. To achieve that designation, pets must demonstrate an ability to remain calm and unbothered amidst crowds, curious hands or loud noises.

Monty's owner, Kaitlyn Reynolds, Team Lead, TPOC, holds a profound attachment to bringing pets into a health care setting. As a six-year old she was hospitalized for sepsis at SickKids and her most enduring memory from that time was being visited by a small therapy dog.

"Ever since then I've wanted to be part of a team that did the same thing that helped me," she says.

This was the first pet therapy session the Wellness team had organized for colleagues. (Pet therapy for patients at UHN has long existed, but has been on hiatus throughout the pandemic.)

"We were trying to think of creative new ways to support TeamUHN," says Tania Williams, Workplace Wellness Manager. “The hope is that staff will come in excited and leave here uplifted, enjoying the rest of their day."

The Wellness team plans to expand the initiative in coming months and host other events across UHN sites. To stay up to date on pet therapy offerings, sign up for the Wellness@UHN newsletter.

To mark the first anniversary of the launch of Synapse, UHN's new health information system powered by Epic, virtual and in-person events were held at sites across UHN. (Photo: UHN)

Celebrating the first anniversary of Synapse at UHN

It's been a year since the launch of Epic, UHN's new health information system (HIS). To mark the occasion, TeamUHN came together both virtually, and in-person across all sites to celebrate this incredible achievement.

"Going live with a modern HIS was part of our strategic priority to unleash the power of technology and innovation to improve experiences for patients and TeamUHN," Dr. Kevin Smith, UHN's President & CEO, said during the Synapse 1-Year Anniversary celebration.

From the outset, members of TeamUHN, patients and their families have talked about the improved efficiency of the new HIS.

For care teams, it's meant a central, electronic location for all patient information, notes, referrals and consultations, and an end to searching for charts in multiple locations.

Patients have shared that they appreciate the ability to complete paperwork online and add information to their electronic chart ahead of appointments by using the enhanced myUHN Patient Portal. They also like being able to schedule some appointments and review – and correct – parts of their patient record.

During the celebration, UHN was awarded the Epic Good Install Award, which rated UHN's project success against Epic's international database of clients over the history of the program.

"UHN was one of the first Epic installs to take place fully virtually, carving out your reputation as leaders and innovators," explained John Craig from Epic.

Thank you to TeamUHN – our project sponsors, leaders and champions, Working Group members, Patient Partners, Super Users, At-the-Elbow support, volunteers, the Synapse project team and, most importantly, front-line staff who persevered in the face of incredible change.


(L to R), Chantell Morais, Indigenous patient navigator at Toronto Western Hospital's Emergency Department, Lisa Vanlint, Manager, Environmental Sustainability, FM-PRO, and Victoria Manitowabi, Indigenous patient navigator at TGH's Emergency Department, help harvest and plant at the Indigenous Healing Garden at the Michener Institute of Education at UHN. (Photo: UHN)

Indigenous Healing Garden continues to take root at UHN

For Chantell Morais, Indigenous patient navigator at Toronto Western Hospital's Emergency Department, having an Indigenous Healing Garden at her workplace is "a massive gift."

"It's really important that we have this garden, because we have access to medicines that our community members need while on their healing journeys," Chantell said while participating in a planting day at the garden, found on the corner of Elm and McCaul Streets at the Michener Institute of Education at UHN. "Some of the medicines that are grown here we can't access immediately in urban spaces."

"It's a massive gift not just for myself, but the community."

Last week, Chantell was joined by Indigenous Health Program (IHP) colleagues and a number of volunteers from UHN's Green Team (lead by Facilities Management - Planning, Redevelopment & Operations' Energy & Environment team) to prep the garden for the summer season.

Together, they pulled weeds, harvested strawberries, planted yarrow (a medicinal herb used in teas) and other plants.

Now in its third season, the garden is thriving and home to the four sacred medicines: sweetgrass, sage, cedar and tobacco.

From design to implementation, the garden is Indigenous-led, following the practices and protocols for planting a Gitigan (the Anishinaabemowin word for garden). Anything that gets planted is either native to the area, or part of traditional medicines used by Indigenous nations for their healing properties to help improve physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

IHP will be hosting a Sunrise Ceremony at the garden on June 21 to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day. The ceremony will begin with the lighting of a Sacred Fire and continue throughout the day with various drop-in activities.

For more information on the ceremony, email indigenoushealth@uhn.ca

To learn about volunteer planting opportunities, email green@uhn.ca

UHN's Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research partnered with other leading cardiovascular organizations and people with lived heart failure experience to develop a first-of-its-kind patient guide – Heart Failure Medications: A Patient & Caregiver Guide – to demystify guideline-directed medical therapy (GDMT) and break down barriers to achieving optimal medication. (Image: UHN)

UHN works with patients to create first-of-its kind patient guide to heart failure medications

Heart Failure is a growing epidemic, with one person being diagnosed every five minutes. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in Canada, and the average hospital visit is seven days. By 2030, heart failure will cost the health care system nearly $3 billion.

As a complex chronic condition, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for heart failure. Guideline-directed medical therapy, or GDMT, is the use of a combination of medications that can improve patient outcomes significantly and is the new standard of care in Canada.

Studies have shown that using all four classes of GDMT medications together can extend life by five to eight years, improve overall quality of life, and reduce hospital visits. However, despite the clear benefits of GDMT, only four in 10 people living with heart failure are receiving this therapy.

UHN's Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research partnered with other leading cardiovascular organizations and people with lived heart failure experience to develop a first-of-its-kind patient guide – Heart Failure Medications: A Patient & Caregiver Guide – to demystify GDMT and break down barriers to achieving optimal medication.

First and foremost, this guide is meant to empower people with lived experience in their own care. Specifically, the guide:

  • Explains what medications may be recommended
  • Supports patients' conversations with their healthcare teams and
  • Helps ensure patients receive the best heart failure care available

It is anticipated that this novel patient guide to GDMT will help alleviate pressures on the healthcare system by supporting heart failure patients in their own self-management and keeping them out of hospital.

The guide was authored by the Canadian Heart Failure Society, the Canadian Cardiovascular Society, HeartLife Foundation, and UHN (Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research).

Access the guide online at www.ourhearthub.ca/heart-failure-medications-guide.

Lorin MacDonald is a human rights lawyer and accessibility advocate, pictured here wearing a clear mask accepting the 2021 WXN Inclusion Vanguard Award. (Photo: Courtesy Lorin MacDonald)

Transparent masks make communication clearer across the Princess Margaret

At the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Health Canada-approved transparent masks are improving accessibility for patients with hearing loss by addressing communication barriers.

Many patients rely on lip-reading, facial expressions, visual cues, and optimal hearing conditions daily. Widespread mandatory masking due to the COVID-19 pandemic meant that people with hearing loss missed out on these critical ways to receive information.

Patients can now request that their medical professionals swap out the opaque mask for accessible, clear masks by mentioning their preference at the front desk at check-in, or at any point throughout their medical process. This option is available in approximately two-thirds of clinics at the Princess Margaret, with the goal of expanding to all clinics in the near future.

The idea to reinforce the use of transparent masks was inspired by accessibility advocate and human rights lawyer Lorin MacDonald, a patient from last summer who uses lip-reading as her main form of communication. Robin Forbes, Social Worker, and Anet Julius, Director of Professional Practice, were advocates in Lorin's care and ensured clear masks were available for her appointments.

"I was adamant that no one else should have to struggle for clear communication – especially when dealing with cancer," she says. "Never should one be forced to miss critical information about their care."

As a result of this advocacy, the Princess Margaret Patient and Family Experience Committee formed a working group of experts to implement clear masks throughout the hospital.

"Integrating clear masks into our check-in process and education programs for healthcare providers will help our patients get the best possible care," says Shay Kittuppanantharajah, Patient Experience – Quality Liaison, Cancer Care Quality & Innovation.

When Lorin sees a health care professional wearing a clear mask, it tells her they are dedicated to clear communication and inclusion, reinforcing Princess Margaret Cancer Centre's commitment to delivering compassionate care.

"Respecting the right to dignity and independence of every person is central to accessibility " says Jacqueline Silvera, Director of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Anti-Racism, UHN. “Clear masks are an example of universal design as they allow a full view of the face and facial expressions, improving communication with different types of patients and patient populations."

The late Mohamed Ali, (L), a longtime member of the UHN housekeeping staff, who passed away in January 2021, and Jashim Uddin, a cleaner at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, who received the Mohamed Ali Memorial Award in its inaugural year. (Photos: UHN)

Applications open for UHN's Support Services award

Jashim Uddin, a cleaner at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, has his eyes set on a leadership role at UHN.

Thanks to his manager, supervisor and UHN's Mohamed Ali Memorial Award, his career growth is well within reach.

Last year, Jashim was among the first Support Services staff to win the award, which provides an annual grant for educational and professional development opportunities for Environmental Services or Transportation staff across UHN sites. The award honours the life and legacy of Mohamed Ali, a longtime member of the UHN housekeeping staff, who passed away in January 2021.

The award is now accepting applicants for its second year, with applications open until July 21.

Since receiving the award in its inaugural year last fall, Jashim has graduated from the Canadian Healthcare Housekeepers Association Environmental Services Leadership course. He's now working with his supervisors to gain experience in hopes of moving into a leadership position.

"It was a great opportunity to receive the Mohammed Ali Memorial Award to complete the Environmental Service Leadership Program towards my career goals," says Jashim. “The program enhanced my knowledge in EVS leadership that I can apply to my current position and future growth.

"I look forward to continuing to learn and grow within my position at UHN."

Established in 2022 by UHN Foundation and the generosity of the Ali family and donor philanthropy, the Mohamed Ali Memorial Award is UHN's first grant in support of the educational and professional development of Support Services employees within the Facilities Management – Planning, Redevelopment & Operations (FM-PRO) department. The grant is open to all Environmental Services and Transportation employees – full-time, part-time, or casual - across all UHN sites.

The award is given to one to three support services staff each year (up to $1,500 per person). The funds can be used for courses like Centennial College's Healthcare Environmental Services Management course, or any Canadian Healthcare Housekeepers Association (CHHA) courses. Read the award criteria and application.

All applications must be submitted to John Petropoulos, Manager, Support Services at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, via email at John.Petropoulos@uhn.ca by July 21, 2023.


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