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Ontario’s Social Prescribing pilot project shows strength of community health interventions to systemically address social impacts of COVID-19 measures

TORONTO – March 25, 2020 -- As regular routines are upended and in-person social activities and community programming are suspended to help slow the spread of COVID-19, social and community supports become even more essential. This is especially true for those who are already vulnerable. It’s why we’re sharing our Social Prescribing pilot project’s final report with you today. Here are three implications of our report on the current responses to COVID-19:

  1. At COVID-19 assessment centres and other care settings, health care providers can and should be screening people for social needs, and referring to social supports, but also material needs like food, income, shelter
  2. Organizations should dedicate staff to act as navigators and support referrals for those who need it. Volunteers can take leadership and do outreach (volunteers showed the greatest health improvements in our pilot project).
  3. Social prescribing provides the tools, tracking and pathways to do this work today. Here’s how.

What happens if we don’t take coordinated, systemic action on the effects of social distancing, isolation and quarantine, like we did on the virus itself?

Experts believe we are headed for another devastating crisis if we don’t act now. Some call it a “social recession” and others call it a looming “loneliness epidemic”. Whatever name we give it, one thing is certain: it is sure to affect those who don’t have strong social networks the hardest. Seniors, newcomers, people facing mental health issues, people living on low incomes and those facing other socioeconomic barriers. Longer-term negative mental health outcomes include insomnia, mood disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. Substance abuse, domestic violence, and rates of suicide are reported to rise. Such impacts are most severe for women and for individuals with lower education levels, poorer self-perceived health, and lower emotional support.

Alliance members have stepped up work on social isolation during COVID-19 response by adapting. At Guelph Community Health Centre, healthcare providers are continuing to make social prescribing referrals when needed, and the social prescribing navigator is following up via telephone and virtual appointments. At the South Georgian Bay Community Health Centre, community program staff and volunteers are mobilizing to make social calls to program participants in lieu of meeting in person. The importance of integrating health care and social supports is critical now, and it will continue to be as we recover together from the impacts of COVID-19. Social Prescribing’s framework for community-led interventions can help to protect the long-term health and wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities, and build a more equitable and resilient community in the future.

For all those reasons, we’re asking you to make this a vital story to tell right now, as Ontario heads into a period of even tighter controls on our social lives. For interview subjects to speak on what’s needed to address social isolation and get people connected during COVID-19, contact: Jason Rehel, 416-817-9518 jason.rehel@allianceON.org.

Background: The Alliance for Healthier Communities represents and advocates for more than 100 comprehensive primary health care organizations across Ontario. Eleven of those organizations were pilot sites for the Social Prescribing project, including in: Belleville/Quinte, Témiskaming, Ottawa, Portland and Rideau Lakes, Tweed and Hastings, Guelph, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Clearview Township, Wasaga Beach, Collingwood, Elmvale, the Town of the Blue Mountains, West Elgin, Dutton, West Lorne and Rodney.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020