Drs. Jennifer Hulme and Kate Hayman
Drs. Jennifer Hulme (L) and Kate Hayman, the new Disadvantaged Population Leads in the UHN Emergency Departments, say poverty is central to much of what they do and see each day, and the United Way and its agencies help connect patients with the vital community supports they need. (Photo: UHN)

Entering the final week of UHN's United Way campaign is an appropriate time to share some stories on how TeamUHN members see the impact of poverty on a daily basis. It's also important to understand how the critical services provided by the United Way and its agencies help make a difference in Toronto every day.

One in 20 visits to the Emergency Department (ED) at UHN is by a person with no fixed address. Even if patients are housed, if they can't afford fresh food, good quality child care, or to fill their prescriptions, they're more likely to wind up there.

Drs. Jennifer Hulme and Kate Hayman see this firsthand. As the new Disadvantaged Population Leads in the UHN EDs, poverty is central to much of what they do and see each day as they undertake social-needs screening in the Toronto Western and Toronto General EDs in hopes of connecting struggling patients with existing programs.

Working with patient care navigators, intensive case managers as well as community partners and programs, Drs. Hulme and Hayman will look to help build support for people through their healthcare journey and connect them to much-needed social services and housing.

Dr. Hulme likens the role in ED to "canaries in the coal mine."

"If we are seeing a lot of overdoses, for example, we can provide education and connect patients with services and supervised injection sites available in the community," she says.

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The doctors recount the story of a homeless man who came to the ED almost daily for three years. Suffering from multiple health conditions, including epilepsy, recurrent bilateral leg wounds, chronic pain, and alcohol use disorder, the man also wasn't taking his seizure medications due to the cost.

ED social workers were able to connect the patient to a team that serves people who are homeless, with addictions and brain injuries. The team, which offers nursing, intensive case management and psychiatry support, was able to find supportive housing for the man with other people living with traumatic brain injuries.

Since he was housed, the man has not returned to the ED.

"It's not just the homeless though," says Dr. Hayman. "There are hardworking, precariously employed people who are coming into the ED that don't have access family doctors or can't get to the clinic during working hours.

"They don't have drug benefits, and can't afford to fill prescriptions. If they do fill prescriptions, they have to go without something else that month."

The solution to #UNIGNORABLE issues like homelessness is often more than finding a place to live.

A network of support can make all the difference in improving the lives of vulnerable people. A gift to the United Way will go towards a network of 270 United Way agencies across the GTA, including the Canadian Mental Health Association, Newcomer Centre of Peel, FoodShare Toronto, and 519 Church Street Community Centre. These community agencies will help people when and where they need it most, changing lives today and tomorrow.

Dr. Hayman and Dr. Hulme hope their UHN colleagues will continue to think about the hospitals' relationships with the community and bring this engagement forward in 2020 by making a difference and supporting the United Way.

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