East Toronto Health Partners launch community response to ‘surge up’ during winter and flu season to improve care for clients and families, reduce hallway medicine

hands of support for a seniorNov. 27, 2019 – The cold winter months and holiday season trigger a heightened demand for health and community care services, often referred to as ‘winter surge’, causing increased pressure on a system already under strain. In addition to more patients with influenza-like illness, Emergency Departments (EDs) typically see more visits for norovirus outbreaks, falls on ice and exacerbation of chronic illnesses. Hospital EDs also see an increase in visits for mental health issues, often intensified by the holidays.

However, surge is not just a hospital issue. Community services including family physician practices, shelters, walk-in clinics, home care and others, feel the same seasonal pressures. Unlike hospitals, community services are not typically part of the response to “surge”.

For the second year in a row, East Toronto Health Partners (ETHP), a prospective Ontario Health Team (OHT), is taking a community-based approach to an annual challenge. ETHP began 2019/2020 winter surge planning in August with over 30 health and community care partners; ETHP is investing $1.5-million to fund 25 surge initiatives from November 2019 to March 2020.

“This community-based approach to winter surge is one example of integrated care in action to help people in East Toronto stay well,” said Carol Annett, VHA Home HealthCare, on behalf of East Toronto Health Partners. “This enables us to wrap care around clients, patients and families, and to localize care for our most vulnerable communities and neighbourhoods, putting the needs of our community above the interests of our individual organizations.”

These 25 winter surge initiatives focus on improving access to community-based services, keeping community members across East Toronto well, supporting better transitions home from the emergency department or following hospital admission, and helping to address broader community pressures.

Some initiatives already underway include:

  • Enhanced accessed to community flu clinics for vulnerable populations: In November and December, East Toronto Community Health Centre Community Flu Clinics are offering flu shots at a number of Toronto Community Housing buildings. The initiative is organized by South Riverdale Community Health Centre, East End Community Health Centre, Access Alliance, Flemingdon Health Centre/Health Access Thorncliffe Park, VHA Home HealthCare, WoodGreen Community Services and Toronto Community Housing.
  • Mobile flu clinics for seniors: In November and December, a mobile flu clinic is offering flu shots and falls risk assessments including home screening to minimize trips and falls by clinicians from VHA Home HealthCare to Toronto Community Housing residents and WoodGreen Community Services seniors’ unit buildings.
  • Mental health and addictions services during the holidays: Enhanced access to walk-in counselling and primary care services during Dec. 23-30, 2019 will be available to individuals experiencing isolation, stress, anxiety, or food insecurity. The initiative is organized by WoodGreen Community Services, Family Services Toronto, Catholic Family Services Toronto, Yonge Street Mission and Sherbourne Health. In addition, South Riverdale Community Health Centre and Inner City Health Associates will provide enhanced primary care services in youth mental health and addictions shelters in East Toronto.
  • Increased investments in the ED: As of September, Michael Garron Hospital increased physician coverage and hospital staffing to support high ED patient volumes to improve access and timeliness of patient visits.
  • ETHP’s Home2Day program: An initiative that offers earlier transitions home from hospital for low-risk respiratory illness patients. This hospital at home model, organized by Michael Garron Hospital, VHA Home HealthCare and WoodGreen Community Services, transitions patients home after two days in hospital when their stay would typically be seven days, with enhanced supports at home, in addition to virtual care.

“The Home2Day program helped me a lot. It got me home sooner and that’s the goal,” commended a recent Home2Day patient.

In early 2020 additional surge initiatives are set to roll out to support wrap-around care for clients, patients and families in East Toronto, from enhanced primary care services, to youth mental health offerings and support for individuals experiencing substance use and addictions.

This community-based approach builds on ETHP’s response to winter surge last year; at the time, more than 10 East Toronto community partners participated in the planning and delivery of integrated, local health services. This year, with the momentum of the partnership and the OHT model, surge planning involved more than 30 partners and ETHP has more than doubled its initiatives from 11 pilot projects last year to 25 initiatives this year.

About East Toronto Health Partners (ETHP)

As an evolving network of health, community care and social service providers with a long history of delivering East Toronto solutions together, ETHP is dedicated to creating an integrated model of services that places patients, clients and families at the centre of care. ETHP anchor partners include: WoodGreen Community Services, Providence Healthcare (Unity Health Toronto), South Riverdale Community Health Centre, VHA Home HealthCare, Michael Garron Hospital Toronto East Health Network and East Toronto Family Practice Network. Read ETHP’s full Ontario Health Team application here.

About East Toronto Family Practice Network (EasT-FPN)

As an anchor partner of ETHP since October 2019, EasT-FPN seeks to engage all family physicians in East Toronto to become the voice of family practice, supporting engagement of primary care in the design and development of a local integrated model of care. As a network of self-organized physicians, EasT-FPN is the first family practice network of its kind in Ontario. To learn more, visit: eastfpn.org.