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Supporting Community Connections during Ontario’s COVID-19 response: Stories from across the province

Carea Community Health Centre staff get ready to do outreach to vulnerable populations in the Oshawa area to provide harm reduction materials and hygiene supplies during Ontario's COVID-19 response.

{PHOTO: Carea Community Health Centre staff get ready to do outreach to homeless and other marginalized populations in the Oshawa area to provide harm reduction materials and hygiene supplies during Ontario's COVID-19 response. Read Carea CHC's full details on updates to programs/services.}

Below, you’ll find a compendium of what we know so far of Alliance members’ vital responses to the COVID19 pandemic to support the people and communities they serve. This is by no means all the stories out there. That’s why we’re calling on you to send any stories from your area that you’d like to share to: communications@allianceon.org. We will be updating this post each week with new materials. Thanks!

UPDATE, APRIL 2

This week, we're looking around the province and seeing a lot of examples of how Alliance members' staff are stepping up to ensure the communities and populations they serve are connected.

In Midland, at CSC CHIGAMIK CHC, in-person health promotion and community programming has been postponed, but the one-on-one mental health counselling, Traditional Healing sessions and some community programs are continuing in virtual formats. Other online offerings will include mindfulness sessions, Mama Tribe support group for new moms and babies, Choose to Move exercise sessions and Ojibwe language classes. The Centre will also be offering virtual “walk-in” mental health counselling, open and free to the community.

"COVID-19 has made it clear how much we all depend on each other for our health and wellbeing. Social and community supports are essential in times of physical distancing, self-isolation and quarantines,” said David Jeffery, Executive Director, CSC CHIGAMIK CHC. “At Chigamik, our clinicians, system navigator, health promoters, and other staff are making regular social check-in calls to clients at high risk of becoming isolated and referring them to supports offered by the centre or through local partners. This includes seniors who are at risk of feeling isolated, people who live alone, vulnerable families, people with mental health issues and those with complex health conditions.” For full details on how programs have been adapted, visit the CHIGAMIK website.

In Kingston, Kingston Community Health Centres' Street Health services continue to operate and serve their community, "almost like business as usual." 

“We are still trying to do as much as we can right now, and it’s still a very busy spot down here even with everything else closing,” said Street Health manager Brittany Couto. What does a harm reduction response during COVID-19 look like? 

  • Opioid substitution therapy clinics are still running and doing many phone appointments
  • The rapid access addiction management program is running as normal and is still able to see people same-day for treatment initiation. Walk-ins are accepted and over-the-phone addiction management through counselling and/or substitution therapies is available
  • Consumption treatment services are continuing to run as normal, seven days per week.
  • Harm-reduction supplies are still available on-site and are still being distributed to all satellite sites in Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington that remain open, community biohazard bins are continuing to be emptied, and naloxone distribution and training continues to be offered as normal.
  • The Street Health pharmacy has been temporarily moved to B&B Pharmacy, 235 Montreal St., and dispensing of methadone and suboxone continues at B&B pharmacy

Read the the full Kingston Whig-Standard story.

To support similar work in Hamilton, Hamilton Urban Core CHC Executive Director Denise Brooks spoke to the Hamilton Spectator about the need to properly equip and protect consumption and treatment services, harm reduction, and homeless outreach staff, who are also on the front lines of COVID-19 responses. Brooks said the CHC's biggest concern is people experiencing homeless amid the outbreak, noting many spaces for them to seek respite from the street during the day — such as libraries and shopping malls — have closed, while shelters are bursting at the seams. 

Staff and leaders at Guelph CHC are deeply involved in the community's response to providing homeless populations with support during the COVID-19 response. The CHC has partnered with other community and health care organizations in the area to open a Supported Isolation Centre in downtown Guelph, for people who need to isolate but need support to do so.

Typically, to develop a program from nothing to something usually can take anywhere from several weeks to months. To bring together a robust staffing team, to put policies and procedures and training in place. Leaders literally co-wrote procedures around the clock, said Raechelle Devereaux, executive director of Guelph CHC. "This particular model is recognizing we need something immediately, and so we're going to put something in place and the staffing model on this particular space is integrated.” Read the full story about the Guelph Supported Isolation Centre.

Noojmowin Teg Health Centre, the Aboriginal Health Access Centre serving Anishinabek individuals, families and communities within the District of Manitoulin and area, is offering delivery services, online and phone appointments with traditional healers, online cooking classes, and story time via Facebook live. Read about the adaptions their staff and volunteers are making to continue to meet people's needs.

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FROM MARCH 26:

Although most Alliance members have suspended in-person health promotion and community programming at their centres, many of them have kept these services going by re-engineered the way they are provided. Many programs have moved to virtual formats, including seniors wrap-around programs, Pathways to Education, newcomer clinics, yoga classes, kids drop-in, and physiotherapy education sessions. Online peer support is being used in many Alliance members. This includes live chats and Facebook pages being used to provide social support to people who are isolated or experiencing. Other online offerings include as cooking classes hosted by a centre dietitian; Facebook groups moderated by peers and staff; virtual platforms for social support groups; and phone-based counselling. Some centres posting tip sheets to help clients with ideas to stay healthy and connected while physical distancing or in self-isolation.

Many Alliance member centres are taking steps to identify their clients who are at risk. This includes people who are seniors at risk of feeling isolated, other people who live alone, vulnerable families, people with mental health issues and those with complex health conditions. Clinicians, system navigators, health promoters, and other staff are making regular social check-in calls to these clients at high risk of becoming isolated and referring them, where possible, to appropriate supports offered by the centre or its local partners.

Lack of access to phones or other devices or to reliable internet can be a barrier for some clients in accessing these virtual supports. Some CHCs have been able to secure “disposable” cell phones, tablets, or even laptops to help clients stay connected. Others are doing home visits or keeping doors open to provide a safe space for clients who are homeless or at risk of domestic violence. Staff from some centres are going to their local shelters to provide clinical and social health care to those who need it.

ON FOOD

Food security is a major issue that many members are addressing. This includes continuing to staff food cupboards and support local food banks. Some centres are working with community agencies/restaurants that have closed to prepare and delivering frozen meals. Meals are being delivered to people on a daily basis. Food and other necessities are also being purchased (baby food, diapers, etc.) and delivered to people who are self-isolating or who are experiencing financial hardship. Specific examples from Alliance members include:

  • Black Creek CHC is distributing hot lunches and hygiene kits to vulnerable community residents (also community food boxes being delivered). 
  • Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities is helping to keep their food bank staffed and ensuring people have access to supplies and food they need (delivery and take out). 
  • Seaway Valley CHC is purchasing food including baby food and diapers and delivering to people. 
  • London Intercommunity Health Centre is distributing care packages and frozen meals to vulnerable community residents. 
  • South East Grey CHC is working with a volunteer chef in the CHC’s currently unused kitchen to prepare these meals and are at this point freezing btw 80-100 meals per week. 
  • Ottawa area CHCs are partnering to deliver food packages. 
  • Port Hope CHC is delivering food baskets. 
  • Kingston CHC delivered tents and sleeping bags to people who were homeless that are sleeping in parking garage. They’re also working on providing prepaid “disposable” cell phones to ensure continued outreach, and they’re providing food and basic necessities  such as prenatal vitamins and infant formula
  • Community Care City of Kawartha Lakes has reallocated staff to help with their Meals on Wheels program – the demand for this program has “exploded” as communities have responded to COVID-19.
  • TAIBU CHC has transitioned their free lunch for isolated seniors to a take-out program (or delivered if required).
  • Parkdale Queen West supports access to healthy food as part of their perinatal and Indigenous health & wellness programs. They are continuing to distribute fod each week and supply hampers to their perinatal clients. They’ve secured food cards and vouchers to distribute to clients who would normally come in person to access food, and they’re looking to expand access to these cards and vouchers to more of their clients who may need them now.

PHOTO: Staff at the London Intercommunity Health Centre assemble food packages.

ON CLINICAL AND OTHER SUPPORTS

Clinical services are also ramping up – despite many organizations screening or being re-deployed to assessment centres, they are also providing increased acute services typically provided at urgent care. This includes wound care; prenatal and infant care (prenatal visits, vitamins, formula, immunizations, new family check-ins); mental health and addictions support (including harm reduction and ensuring that people without health insurance still receive care). In addition, palliative care is continues to be offered in communities. Medications are being renewed. Virtual and, where necessary, in-person visits are being scheduled to ensure people with complex conditions continue to receive care for chronic conditions – especially those which are risk factors for severe complications of COVID-19, such as diabetes, heart disease, immunocompromising conditions, and lung health conditions.

ON ISOLATION AND OUTREACH

To maintain social connection while practicing physical distancing, many centres are providing counselling and other services by phone, and finding ways to help people when/if they don't have access to phones.

  • Kingston CHC, with support from the South East LHIN, plans to hand out disposable phones to socially isolated youth who need them so they can keep getting the counselling and social work support they need.
  • Kitchener CHC: Has accelerated its merger with Sanctuary Health to provide health care for 5,000 refugees, opened doors to a clinic for homeless and under-housed people.
  • Carlington CHC: Developing a weekly “virtual tea time” for seniors
  • Access Alliance is keeping all of their programs running over the telephone or via OTN eVisits.

ON HELP FROM THE COMMUNITY

To address PPE shortages, Alliance members are working with any and all community partners to find supplies locally, sometimes with a hand from fellow providers:

  • To help out staff at Woolwich CHC, local dentist Dr. Mira Nusaputra and her team made a donation of hand sanitizer, surgical masks, and 2,800 pairs of gloves. The centre anticipates they may need to pass this along to other more desperate parts of the system like acute care or the shelters in the city.
  • North Lambton CHC is working with several community agencies to ensure social care remains available to anyone in their community who needs it. Together, they’re creating communications tools to spread the word that “no door is the wrong door.”

Just a reminder, if you have a story to share from your centre and community, please email us at communications@allianceon.org with the details, and we'll follow up to include it here.