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Councillor says outreach program improving trust

Pilot project provides care in priority areas

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express 

Oshawa’s downtown ward city councillor says a regional pilot project is improving trust between residents at risk and ‘uniformed individuals.’

Last summer, Durham Region launched a primary care outreach pilot program, aimed at providing services to priority popluations.

A full-time advanced care paramedic and full-time social worker staff the pilot project.

The paramedic can provide referrals to health care supports, such as mental, addictions, or medical treatment and wound care, while the social worker can provide emotional and mental health support systems, including assessment, crisis intervention, and substance abuse counselling.

There were seven neighbourhoods pegged as priorities around Durham in the region’s Health Neighbourhoods Program, five of which were in Oshawa.

This includes the downtown core, which encompasses the area Ward 4 city councillor Derek Giberson serves.

Giberson recently spoke to the region’s health and social services committee about the pilot project, stating he wanted to provide “a bridge of information.”

In his view, there are two sides of looking at the project.

“There’s always an interplay between qualitative data and quantitative data, which on the one side is very much your metrics and numbers, and on the other side… they’re looking at the lived experiences and experiences from people,” Giberson said.

Giberson noted Ward 4 is the area in the region which experiences the highest levels of urban poverty, and he believes those who interact with uniformed individuals such as police and paramedics don’t always have the most positive of experiences.

But this has begun to improve with the launch of the primary care outreach program.

“The unique experience that they’re having with this unique [and innovative] pilot project is that they are building trust bonds with these individuals,” Giberson said.

But even with the forward progress, there is still work to do in his eyes.

“One thing that I hope would be a takeaway from today when you hear from that team and as you further make decisions on this going forward is that we’re currently facing new challenges, and new challenges require new strategies and new approaches,” said Giberson.

Dr. Robert Kyle, Durham’s commissioner and medical officer of health, provided an update on the pilot project to council.

Program staff use a rapid response vehicle that commutes from various priority neighbourhoods within Oshawa.

The team also provide primary care and social work services all between Monday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

According to the report from Kyle, between July and December, support was provided to 198 clients, and staff had a total of 670 encounters and client interactions.

Of those clients, 47 per cent reported being homeless, 24 per cent reported they have housing, and another 24 per cent were unknown.

Another 48 per cent of those receiving services reported substance use.

The report also notes 200 referrals were given to clients, mostly for housing services

Nineteen per cent also received counselling referrals, 12 per cent addictions counselling, 11 per cent received medical referrals.

According to Kyle, the majority of time spent by staff is engaging with clients and assessment and triage.

Troy Cheseboro, chief of Durham Paramedic Services, said the greatest need for clients using the population is more social services.

He says clients would also benefit from transportation support and more supplies, such as tissues, blankets, bottled water, clothes.

Cheseboro also hopes to expand the program into Whitby, Ajax and Pickering.

He considers the program a success, and it will be even more effective if provided with more resources.

The committee passed a motion by Regional Chair John Henry to endorse the pilot program for the 2019 budget and for staff to research opportunities for additional funding.

“There isn’t a community in Durham Region that we don’t have caring people volunteering to either collect food, distribute food, work in kitchens, to do great things,” said Henry. “This program does make a difference.”

The program is currently scheduled to run through the end of February, and will need funding in the 2019 budget in order to continue.

There will also be a final evaluation at the end of the pilot period.