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

Sarah MacTavish, Administrative Assistant at Langs, left, and Teresa Vandebelt, Social Worker at Langs, each cite the importance of community and connection to health and wellbeing during COVID-19, and have each made their own unique contributions to the centre still being able to serve marginalized people in the Cambridge region during the pandemic.

[Sarah MacTavish, Administrative Assistant at Langs, left, and Teresa Vandebelt, Social Worker at Langs, each cite the importance of community and connection to health and wellbeing during COVID-19, and have each made their own unique contributions to continuing to serve marginalized people in the Cambridge region during the pandemic.]

Below, you’ll find a compendium of some 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, JUNE 25

This week, we feature Langs in Cambridge, and spotlight their "League of Legends" series that the Langs leadership launched to help recognize "ordinary people doing extraordinary things." This edition of the series mentions that staff redeployments have seen Langs staff supporting many different parts of their community during COVID-19. This includes: 11 staff who've helped the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank with food distribution; 5 who assist at the homeless isolation site/drop-in; 6 who helped with testing at the local assessment centre; and one who assisted in long term care. From administrative assistant Sarah MacTavish, whose nimbleness in her roles has allowed her to seamlessly support other staff: "When you care for people who are in a vulnerable position and you can give them the opportunity to have their lives changed, you can then see the ripple effect in the community. And then the community changes" to family physician Dr. David Arnott, who is often working 75-hour weeks these days, including at the COVID-19 assessment centre: "There’s always something more to do and you always want to do the best for your patients, so sometimes it’s hard to shut off." If you want to learn more about what Langs staff are up to, check out the link above, or their YouTube series of videos for clients.

[Anna Pelleboer, Nurse Practitioner at Langs, left, and Dr. David Arnott, Family Physician, are both used to going above and beyond for their clients at Langs -- COVID-19 has seen them finding new ways to ensure their needs are met.]

Elsewhere, Alliance members efforts to ensure a robust community response during COVID-19, and to ensure no one is left behind as the pandemic moves into its next stages, continue. 

This includes efforts being made by NorWest CHC staff to adapt harm reduction and consumption and treatment services to reach people during COVID-19, reported on this week by CBC News in Thunder Bay. This has been no small feat given that overdose epidemic has intersected with COVID-19 in ways that have made it more of a challenge to reach people who need help.

As CBC reports: "The Thunder Bay COVID-19 Community Relief Fund and the Canadian Association of Community Health Centres have provided NorWest CHC with funding which has allowed staff to develop emergency [harm reduction] boxes. The outreach being provided focuses on going to where the clients are, which includes the delivery of harm reduction supplies and sanitation kits to individuals in the community." Executive Director Juanita Lawson added: "Those initiatives that the community health centre has been able to do with support from the United Way has been really important, but the ability of our staff to adapt and to work in a different way with clients in the community rather than in the centres has been really important too."

Alliance members and their staff continue to be at the forefront of COVID-19 community responses, including playing key roles at local assessment centres. “We’re here, and we’re really pleased to be serving people and helping them to get the testing done that they’re looking to get done,” said Grand Bend CHC executive director Cate Melito in a recent news article. In Ottawa, staff from South-East Ottawa CHC participated with their acute care partners in a surveillance testing clinic, and staff at Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health continue to help people get to COVID-19 testing sites, and home again, while still accepting new primary care clients, by the way.

And when it comes to ensuring that vital in-person and virtual primary care appointments still happen, members and their staff are finding ways to make it happen -- from encouraging people to continue well child and baby appointments and vaccinations at Chatham-Kent CHC, to working on supports for digital equity for clients, by providing equipment and services for virtual appointments, as we see with Centretown CHC's partnership with Telus.

On food security, Carea CHC highlights the breadth of food security support the centre has provided since March, while staff at South Riverdale CHC in Toronto show us that pizza delivery is just another part of the job of connecting community during a pandemic. Of course, eating healthy matters, too, so many Alliance members have been doing what Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities has been doing -- offering virtual cooking and nutrition classes to help people learn a new recipe, but also to connect with others via a friendly Zoom chat.

It's also a time of year when many people yearn to connect, for Pride, seniors month, and for the many graduation ceremonies across the province. Pathways to Education Kingston made the day special for its graduates with an emotional online ceremony and tribute to its students who are moving on, while Guelph CHC has tapped its active volunteer base to write handwritten notes to local seniors to offer a pick-me-up. A little bit of community can go a long way in supporting someone's health and wellbeing. Finally, Grand River CHC in Brantford is part of a larger project to address loneliness and isolation in the area, partnering to train leaders who will be deployed by other organizations as part of Belonging Brant.

We will return July 9 with more updates from across Ontario!! Thank you for all you for community!!

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[Dominique Lanteigne, agente de santé communautaire au CSCE, affirme que le programme de la Boîte verte est particulièrement bénéfique pour les personnes isolées en milieu rural pendant la pandémie de la COVID-19.]

UPDATE, JUNE 4

It's been a couple of weeks since we updated everyone on the work to support people and communities during COVID-19, so here's a wide range of interesting stories from across the province.

Cette semaine, nous jetons un coup d’œil au travail du Centre de santé communautaire de l’Estrie, et à celui du personnel et de membres de la communauté qui vise à faciliter l’accès à des aliments sains pour les personnes qui font face à des obstacles pendant la pandémie de la COVID-19. Parmi leurs initiatives, on note l’augmentation de la capacité de leur programme de la Boîte verte pour aider plus de familles dans le besoin à se procurer des fruits et légumes frais en ces temps difficiles. 

Le CSCE et son personnel ont aussi déployé beaucoup d’efforts pour que les jardins communautaires à Cornwall dont ils assurent la gestion demeurent accessibles aux membres de la communauté qui souhaitent y cultiver des aliments, tout en prenant des mesures pour assurer la sécurité de tous et réduire les risques de propagation d’infection en demandant aux gens d’utiliser leurs propres outils de jardinage, de porter de l’équipement de protection individuelle lors que la distanciation physique n’est pas possible et de suivre les consignes d’hygiène et de lavage des mains.

Pour terminer, nous avons aussi un récit d’une thérapeute en santé mentale au CSCE qui montre le potentiel des soins et des services virtuels pour contacter les clients et les mettre en contact avec d’autres personnes au cours de la pandémie de la COVID-19. Ce court récit révèle aussi certains des principaux obstacles auxquels les personnes, particulièrement les personnes âgées, font face pour obtenir des soins et des services virtuels :

En gros, après avoir recueilli un appel de détresse d’une cliente qui était confinée depuis un mois et qui souffrait d’isolement, j’en suis venue à lui proposer des échanges par vidéoconférence puis à l’encourager à inviter ses ami(e)s par le même moyen. Ensuite, je l’ai encouragée à poursuivre ses activités d’animation de groupe Parkinson avec le même système, ce qui lui a donné un projet à faire et lui laissait entrevoir la possibilité de socialiser. Ensuite, je suis demeurée disponible pour effectuer plusieurs tests, à deux, puis à quatre, jusqu’à ce que tous les membres du groupe soient invités (12 participants).

 Voici les difficultés rencontrées par les client(e)s âgé(e)s :

  • peu d’expérience technologique, courbe d’apprentissage importante et possibles moments de découragement;
  • difficultés à connecter soit avec l’audio ou la vidéo lors de l’utilisation d’un PC ou d’une tablette;
  • difficultés à comprendre le menu dans l’application Zoom;
  • quelques craintes par rapport à la confidentialité.

Au final, l’expérience a été très positive, les gens étaient contents de se voir et de pouvoir échanger. Ils étaient aussi fiers d’y être arrivés (à se connecter) et ils vont donc poursuivre les rencontres aux deux semaines.

In other news, Anishnawbe Health in Toronto is going mobile with their Mobile Healing RV, pictured above. The unit will allow staff to provide COVID-19 testing to Indigenous people experiencing homelessness in Toronto, meeting them where they are, and will also provide a base for outreach for primary health care, wound care, rapid access to housing and supports, mental health and addiction supports and referrals, as well as emergency supplies, i.e. water. Also, the Mobile Healing RV features an original work by Anishnawbe artist Joseph Sagaj commissioned for the project.

Last week, TAIBU CHC launched its "TAIBU TOGETHER" helpline, via phone and email, to support Toronto's African, Caribbean and Black communities; at Centretown CHC, they're going the extra mile to let people know harm reduction services, including in-person care, are still available to those who need them. Access Alliance's wide program Food With Dignity continues to bring hundreds of meals and food boxes to marginalized people and families across Toronto, without missing a beat.

In other areas, Plannted Parenthood Toronto is reaching out to young parents with virtual supports; Carea CHC continues to deliver on food security, literally, for people in Oshawa and Durham Region; Somerset West CHC in Ottawa was featured in an article highlighting their advocacy work for people experiencing homelessness in the city during COVID-19, and work to support people's food needs; also in Ottawa, Wabano is stepping up to help people who need to get a COVID-19 test to access transportation to get to an assessment site. 

West Elgin Community Health Centre is featured in a CTV News London article for the CHC staff's continued work connecting seniors and children through a unique program that connects Early Childhood Educators with the local Meals on Wheels program. Children create stories and pictures that they send to specific isolated seniors, to help brighten their days and give them a boost while isolated. So far, 30 seniors have been connected to the program, and staff are looking to expand it.

Vaughan CHC is also taking (virtual) steps with a crafting program series to help children (and parents) to support good mental health while isolation and distancing continue to put people at risk; Guelph CHC is supporting parents and children physically, with drop-offs of care packages via their amazing team of Parent Outreach Workers; and we heard from staff at Quest CHC in St. Catharines that as they continue to offer full primary health care support for their LGBTQ and especially trans care clients during COVID-19, they're also looking at offering more virtual programming in the weeks and months to come, starting with a virtual talent show during Pride Month.

Lastly, as we continue to move into later stages of the pandemic response, fabric coverings and homemade masks are becoming more important for Alliance member clients to have access to for appointments, work, and other essential trips out. For Guelph CHC, Kingston CHC, and others, this has meant tapping into their strong community networks for donation drives and sewing support.

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UPDATE, MAY 21

We begin this week by highlighting the innovative and uplifting "Bear Hug" wellness bag program initiated by staff at Belleville Quinte West CHC. Building on the success and learning from their Social Prescribing pilot, the "Bear Hug" program combines the delivery of some comfort items to isolated seniors and residents of long-term care homes with a crafting project in which local volunteers are providing small knit gifts to help brighten spirits among those who've been dealing with the anxiety and mental stresses of COVID19. Each bag given to a long term care resident contains children’s artwork, a “bear hug”, a few puzzles and a pen, some moisturizer and lip balm, a treat and a special note. Staff at one home say they know these efforts are making a difference for their residents, many of whom had a reason to smile for the first time in a while.

South Riverdale CHC's MATCH midwives program was in the news this week for its support of an expecting mother experiencing homelessness who also became infected with COVID-19. The story highlights the unequal impacts being disproportionately felt across the province by marginalized people, and the urgent need for more supports during COVID-19 for vulnerable populations.

In Ottawa, Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health's Housing Director, along with a client, spoke to CBC Radio Ottawa on Thursday about the challenges of helping people to find housing during COVID-19.

Seaway Valley CHC executive director Debbie St. John-de Wit spoke to the community's local media this week on how the CHC continues to evolve offer virtual care, adaptations for in-person care, more outreach, and managing primary health care virtually.

Shkagamik-Kwe Health Centre, who've been expanding their outreach to communities beyond their Indigenous clients during COVID-19, teamed with Frances Tibollo's Pasta It Forward initiative to help deliver 2,000 pasta meals and many produce hampers to people and families in need in the Sudbury region.

As the province and country shifted its recommendations on face coverings, Alliance members stepped up to start donation drives and creative ways of activating communities to sew cloth masks for distribution. Access Alliance continued its #HiddenSmiles mask project, which aims to help community members produce and donate quality cloth masks to give community members an extra tool to protect themselves and family members. Each food hamper the CHC distributes now includes two washable masks. South-East Ottawa CHC is also running a drive for cloth masks for clients and community members, (and accepted a big donation from Canadasews.ca this week). Lastly, Belleville Quinte West CHC, already in the knit bear game, is also accepting mask donations from community sewing groups

Virtual programming continued to be a strong theme across Alliance members, as we heard about exercise and yoga programs for seniors that are growing in popularity in Toronto, virtual mom and baby songtime sessions in Ottawa, and an online forum for parents facilitated through a counsellor at Black Creek CHC. We also saw CHCs continuing to offer in-person care, including supporting testing and PPE deployment via West Elgin CHC, Oxford County CHC, and Central CHC, who were recognized by their efforts by their local Public Health Unit. The message of in-person services (still) being available to clients was loud and clear in Ottawa, and at Windsor Essex CHC, hours are even being expanded for youth clients into Saturday mornings, to better meet urgent needs.

Lastly, as staff at CHIGAMIK CHC/CSC in Midland get ready to move into their new facility next week, they're not standing still, and are preparing to launch a new Emergency Food Program on June 1 to help provide people with fresh produce for the next eight weeks.

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UPDATE, MAY 14

This week, we feature an update from Carea CHC in Oshawa and Durham Region, on the multitude of ways their staff have supported clients and community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to Kim Lepine, Director of Health Promotion and Community Development Services at Carea, for sharing these notes from their CHC's response:

On food security: Staff packed 366 hampers (as of the first week of May) for seniors apartment buildings (not their clients) with notes of encouragement and # to call for additional support. Carea also partnered with a local school to offer drive-through/take-out “Breakfast for Champions” program (see photo below!) – families register with the school and staff help hand out the packages in the parking lot. Staff have also packed 500 hampers for clients/community last week (first week of May -- see the photo above!).

Virtual programs: Some of the programs that Carea's staff has been able to continue online include: coffee chats for dads (formerly an in person program), reading buddies for kids, virtual programs for LGBTQ youth and hand drumming over Facebook Live.

Develping a “Client navigator support program” (similar to Social Prescribing): New, comprehensive pathway for clients where each provider is attached to a health promoter/commmunity development staff member, and a mental health therapist. Providers have a script to screen people for non-clinical needs, and can refer clients to the health promoter/community development worker or mental health staff member for follow-ups. The staff members make contact with the client within 1-3 days, and if mental health sessions are needed, three sessions are scheduled. Staff also have specializations in working with particular equity groups, i.e., LGBTQ2S, and can refer to each other where needed. The next step? Carea staff are looking at ways to track the outcomes of their new client navigation and support system.

Congrats to all of Carea's staff and leadership team on the innovations you're working on during COVID-19.

Also this week, we saw a news report that Windsor Essex CHC is part of a group of community partners, including the local public health unit and others, that tested every single person in the city's shelter system. So far, with 70% of tests processed, there have not been any positive cases. 

Elsewhere in Ontario, Bridges CHC staff in Niagara Region are helping clients with the mental health challenges of COVID-19; in Cornwall, staff at Seaway Valley CHC are heavily involved in the community's massive effort to deliver 1,500 grocery and supply hampers to seniors who are isolated; similar efforts were underway this week in Northumberland where the CHC dietitian and health promotion staff have turned their team into a food security task force, working to ensure that no one goes hunrgy during the pandemic -- working with local partners, they've made and delivered 600 meals and 360 grocery hampers thus far during the pandemic. Noojmowin Teg Health Centre, with a mandate to serve Indigenous clients' primary health care needs in the Manitoulin Island area and surrounding communities, is also helping out in the wider community with family hampers, including diapers

NorWest CHC in Thunder Bay and others continue to sound the alarm over the effects that COVID-19 is having for people facing the overdose crisis, with fewer people accessing these vital services, which continue to operate and serve clients; South Riverdale CHC helped to share the advocacy message around governments needing to support decriminalization of simple possession and allow for a safe supply of drugs to help address the continued overdoses we see. South Riverdale was also in the news this week for its continued campaign to get 1,500 functioning smartphones and tablets into the hands of clients who need them, complete with chargers and data plans.

Last, but far from least, as the focus of both the public and the health system begins to move towards the after-effects of the pandemic, particularly on mental health, Ottawa organizations have launched Counselling Connect, which offers free same-day or next-day video counselling appointments, meant to take the place of shuttered drop-in services. This innovative service went live online on Thursday, May 14, and is a joint partnership between 13 agencies in Ottawa, including Centretown Community Health Centre, Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, and Somerset West Community Health Centre.

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[Isabelle, one of Centretown CHC's EarlyON staff, prepares activity bags for children. With emergency COVID-19 funding, Centretown staff purchased some supplies for children to use at home. Learn more about Centretown CHC's COVID-19 community response. Image via Twitter]

UPDATE, MAY 7

This week, we'll start by spotlighting some of the work at Seaway Valley CHC, serving Cornwall and surrounding communities, on the steps their staff are taking to support the wider pandemic response in their area, recognize volunteers, expand their services to people beyond their clients, continue vital services programming and supports for the people they serve, and support public health.

SVCHC staff are redeploying to assist the community as needed during the pandemic. We currently have primary care staff (doctors, nurse practitioners and nurses) who are working at Cornwall’s Assessment Centre at the local hospital. We are now coordinating with the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) to provide vaccines to children in our community. Our social worker and registered dietitians expanded their range beyond SVCHC clients to help anyone in need of their services during this time. Our dietitians have also collaborated with YourTV Cornwall to release a series of nutrition videos for the public to support health eating during COVID-19. SVCHC is also supporting the local Meals-on-Wheels Programs with staff distributing meals on a rotating roster throughout the community. 

Staff are calling all clients to check-in periodically and we have onboarded a group of volunteers to assist with more consistent calls to the most vulnerable clients. When providers come across clients in need of additional support, they refer to our internal Bridges Team – an interdisciplinary team of staff members who system navigate and coordinate the necessary services. Additionally, our Primary Care Outreach (PCO) program have expanded program eligibility from vulnerable seniors to all vulnerable clients of all ages.

Last, and far from least, Seaway Valley CHC staff found a creative way to ensure that their volunteers would be recognized, even though they couldn't gather in person. In addition to recognizing individual volunteers on their Facebook page, SVCHC also created a YouTube video thanking their volunteers directly as part of National Volunteer Week.

This week we also learned of mental health interventions being led and co-led by Alliance members. In Toronto, providers at Hong Fook Mental Health Association and Regent Park CHC partnered with colleagues at Ryerson University and University Health Network to form Project PROTECH (Pandemic Rapid-response Optimization To Enhance Community-Resilience and Health)a community-engaged action research project that aims to reduce the negative psychosocial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Chinese Canadians and other affected groups while promoting community resilience.

In Thunder Bay, NorWest CHC staff have been working with many local partners to address the gap in access to technology, especially phones, to be able to access essential mental health and addictions services and supports. NorWest's efforts to deliver community relief supplies to families in need was also highlighted this week.

At the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health in Ottawa, staff and volunteers continue to help support food security for the people in their community by delivering hundreds of hot lunches and essential items. Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services continues its #FoodWithDignity program of meals several times a week, and is expanding the service, which serves hundreds of take-away meals every week. In Ottawa, Somerset West CHC is launching a research project to learn more about food insecurity during COVID-19 and develop interventions. North Lanark CHC is a partner with local agencies delivering groceries to seniors in the rural areas around the centre. LAMP CHC in Etobicoke is partnering with a local community garden and produce growers to pull a crop this season that will help support the fresh produce needs of low-income residents.

North Lanark CHC was also in the news this week for its work in helping support vulnerable people, along with community partners, to isolate where needed during COVID-19. In the Township of Wellesley, Woolwich CHC is part of a community-wide effort to raise funds through the Wellesley Residents Supports Fund, to ensure everyone in their community has what they need during the pandemic response.

At Centretown CHC in Ottawa, while some staff are still part of the pandemic response helping to staff COVID-19 assessment centres, others are prepping care baskets for delivery to children and families as part of the EarlyON program. 

When it comes to virtual programming, Alliance members continue to explore creative ways to deliver essential primary health care programming and services to their clients and beyond. This includes Planned Parenthood Toronto's efforts to educate on safe practices around virtual sex, on its TeenHealthSource portal; Vibrant Healthcare Alliance is now rolling out its "virtual wellness series" to help support isolated clients in self-care and managing chronic conditions during COVID-19. At Community Care City of Kawartha Lakes, staff continue to offer appointments both in person, and virtual, according to what's needed.

 

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[At TAIBU Community Health Centre in Scarborough, nurses and other providers continue to deliver vital primary care services such as diabetes education to their community, but with personal protective gear playing a prominent role to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.]

UPDATE, APRIL 30

This week, we begin with some details of what's been happening at Centre de santé communautaire du Témiskaming. Here's a report directly from a staff member there, with some reactions by clients to the CSC's efforts to combat isolation and continuing serving its community:

"Our nurses called our primary care clients: those age 60+, and the adults deemed more vulnerable. Many people were thankful for the check in, but mentioned they felt well connected during this time. If the call was solely social, we made referrals to the community health workers who will follow up with weekly phone calls, and eventually links to virtual activities."

"Our community health workers are also calling all our program participants weekly; our activities are mostly aimed to francophone seniors, and families with children. In some instances, volunteers and champions are also making those calls when they are the ones leading the activity."

"Now we are into virtual programming. Families interact on Zoom (dance parties, gym nights, coffee chats, cooking activities) and we’re working with our Early ON ON y va collaborative partners to send out activity packs to families, and coordinate activities. Lastly, we are just getting started with seniors programming on the teleconferencing platform Mercuri. That is in partnership with our local Home support agency who has been running with this program for over a year. We've had our first stretching/light exercise session, and there are more to come, plus social activities as well."

 

In other areas of the province, Early Years and EarlyON staff at Centretown CHC in Ottawa worked to prepare and deliver care packages to families living in a shelter; Carea CHC staff were busy preparing breakfast bags to send out to families in need; at Guelph CHC, cars continued to be loaded with fresh produce and groceries via the SEED iniative, with CHC workers behind the wheel to make drop-offs.

South Riverdale CHC is continuing its technology and #devicedrive in the Toronto area, aiming to gather donations of used phones/chargers, computers, and cash for setting up phone accounts, building on the success seen from the generous donation by Telus a week ago to help support marginalized people to get connected during COVID-19.

Alliance members continued to offer essential primary health care to their clients, either in person with accommodations, such as TAIBU CHC demonstrated above, and through this call out to any clients, especially new mothers in need of well baby checks. On the virtual side, Vibrant Healthcare Alliance will begin to host twice weekly health and wellness information sessions on May 5.

In the media, Quest CHC Executive Director Nancy Garner spoke with local radio about the creative steps the CHC is taking to reach the people who need their services and support the most. "We're providing one-on-one appointments, virtual appointments, and we're still screening and seeing people in-person where it's necessary, with the proper infection control steps. We've also ramped up our groups virtually, and we're providing disposable phones to those who can't connect because of a gap in technology." In Belleville, Belleville and Quinte West CHC staff were recognized in the local media for the "Wellness boxes" that staff have been delivering to people coping with the effects of isolation. 

Lastly, the Alliance's own Policy and Government Relations Lead (Black health), Sané Dube, was a panelist on TVO's The Agenda earlier in the week, discussing the importance of collecting race-based and sociodemographic data in health care, especially during COVID-19.

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UPDATE, APRIL 16

There's lots to report on about Alliance members' work across the province this week, from PPE donations and distribution, to virtual mental health supports, to continued work on outreach, advocacy, and food security. Updates this week include: advocacy on the collection of race-based data and supports for people who use drugs, Alliance members working to collect and distribute PPE, food bank and distribution work, and virtual supports during COVID-19.

Black health leaders across sectors came together this week to urgently call for the collection of race-based and sociodemographic data to better understand the impacts of COVID-19 on marginalized populations. Parkdale-Queen West CHC CEO Angela Robertson co-authored an article in the Toronto Star: "We need data to protect those must vulnerable to the coronavirus". Alliance members added their voices to the call on social media, and an open letter calling for immediate action on disaggregated data was signed by 1,600 people and nearly 200 organizations and sent to Premier Ford, Minister Elliott and Dr. Williams earlier this week.

Also on the advocacy front, South Riverdale CHC's CEO Jason Altenberg wrote an essay published in Toronto Life that shines a light on the dire situation faced by people who use drugs and/or people experiencing homelessness who are without many of their usual face-to-face supports right now, such as public libraries and many drop-in centres, and were already at risk due to the overdose crisis and poisoned drug supply.

In London, staff at InterCommunity Health Centre have ramped up testing for people experiencing homelessness, running 30 tests a week and working to find spots for people to self-isolate in a motel while waiting for their test result.

[Staff at Scarborough Centre for Healthier Communities worked with community partners and parent volunteers to distribute puzzles, games, books and activities for families to do together to approximately 85 families and over 150 children. The boxes were a gift from a stay-at-home mom who wanted to help other families. Read the full story.]

At Kitchener Downtown CHC, staff have entered into an innovative partnership with a local brewery to help supply beer to people in the commuity dealing with alcohol use disorders.

On personal protective equipment (PPE), Alliance members continued to be important hubs and distribution points for PPE in their communities for all health sectors. Flato Developments is assisting many health providers with PPE, including N95 masks, and South East Grey CHC helped out as a drop-off point for others. Guelph CHC acted a distribution hub for health providers in the city for a PPE donation from the University of Guelph. In Oxford County, the CHC is coordinating a donation drive from the community, along with their paramedic colleagues.

When it comes to food security, efforts continue in earnest, with many Alliance members partnering with local organizations to coordinate donation drives and community distribution, here are some examples from Ottawa, Guelph, Oshawa and Durham Region, Woodstock and Oxford County, Scarborough, and in Toronto in partnership with Community Food Centres Canada.

Lastly this week, CHIGAMIK CSC/CHC continues to roll out virtual programming to keep their clients connnected, both to virutal exercise/physiotherapy, and to online counselling supports.

As always, if you have work, partnerships, or staff to highlight, please reach out to jason.rehel@allianceon.org

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[This week, the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association and its members stepped up with a 3,400 mask donation to Vibrant Healthcare Alliance. Vibrant Registed Nurse Linda Ta is pictured here with the donated PPE]

UPDATE, APRIL 9

Alliance members work was popping up in the local press, province-wide media and on social media this week. Here are some of the highlights:

Parkdale-Queen West CHC executive director Angela Robertson spoke to the Toronto Star this week about the need to collect race-based and sociodemographic data now in order to know how Black communities and others who've been marginalized are doing during Ontario's pandemic response. Dr. Nanky Rai, also of Parkdale-Queen West CHC, spoke to a reporter at TVO about the need for Safe Supply resources now to support people who use drugs.   

On the PPE front, Alliance members both received community help, and gave it to their community partners. As mentioned in the Alliance bulletin, in Toronto, Vibrant Healthcare Alliance  received 3,400 masks this week from the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association (OSWCA) and its members. A big thank you goes out to them and their executive director, Patrick McManus, who made the delivery to Vibrant's midtown Toronto location on Wednesday morning (see the main picture above). Here's a full statement from Vibrant's CEO, Simone Atungo:

“We are in the midst of a global pandemic that is having a devastating impact on communities across the world.  Here in Ontario, COVID-19 has mobilized all sectors to work together and develop innovative and creative solutions to address this crisis.  Critical PPE shortages continue to be reported across Ontario and this remains an area of global concern. For this reason, Vibrant Healthcare Alliance is extremely grateful to have received a donation of personal protective equipment from the Ontario Sewer & Watermain Construction Association (OSWCA). Their donation will allow our staff to continue delivering vital primary health care and supportive housing services to vulnerable clients and community members.  This donation illustrates that when communities come together to support one another, great things happen.”

In Port Hope, staff at Community Health Centres of Northumberland delivered much-needed PPE to their healthcare provider partners at Northumberland Hills Hospital, receiving a shout-out from their acute care colleagues on Twitter.

We continue to see strong work on food security. This week, staff at Brock Community Health Centre in Durham Region coordinated a food bank drive that collected more than 500 pounds of food to distribute to people who need help right now. Access Alliance is making food hampers available to people for pick-up from their Danforth Access Point in Toronto. Lastly, Bramalea CHC shared photos from its partnership with the YMCA of Greater Toronto, to deliver food baskets across their communities.

Delivering primary health care services in a transformed environment is also a big emerging stories across Alliance members. This week we saw a story about virtual appointments at Niagara Falls CHC, and another article that highlights a "virtual walk-in" mental health service and other service adaptations being offered by CHIGAMIK CHC in Midland. At Guelph CHC, they've taken their breastfeeding support group online, to support critical social connections for new parents during COVID-19. At LAMP CHC in Etobicoke, adjustments are being made to help part-time staff who've lost shifts at other employers, to help make up for lost income.

Got a COVID-19 community health connection story to share? We want to know. Please email jason.rehel@allianceon.org to get the word around about the work you're doing right now.

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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 the photo below, 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.

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.