A labour of love: Bringing accessible and safe care to the community

December 23, 2020

Anticipating the high demand for influenza (flu) shots this fall, members of North York Toronto Health Partners (NYTHP), our Ontario Health Team (OHT), mobilized to support North York residents in need.

“The group realized this year, with the pandemic, how difficult it may be for some people to access the flu vaccine,” says James Schembri, Project Manager, Strategy Management for North York General Hospital and NYTHP backbone member.

By looking at trends in previous years, the NYTHP was able to identify groups with low vaccination rates including people who do not have a family physician, are not part of a Family Health Team or other primary care practice; and residents of congregate settings like group homes and shelters without vaccination programs.

NYTHP members started planning the local vaccination strategy in the summer. With COVID numbers rising, it was more important than ever this year to ensure people had easy access to the flu vaccine to prevent avoidable illness and hospital admissions.

With pop-up, appointment-based clinics filling up quickly, and knowing that reducing crowds is key to preventing COVID-19, vaccinating people in their car was identified as an ideal solution to safely reach a large group of people. The North York Family Health Team quickly arranged a suitable parking lot space that they could open to the public.

“The drive-thru clinic ran for five Saturdays and was extremely popular. Healthcare professionals worked in four continuous lines where people were vaccinated from as young as 6 months to our oldest patient at 99 years old. After waiting the recommended period of post-assessment time, everyone was on their way. Over 2,500 people were vaccinated in their vehicles,” says Sue Griffis, Executive Director of the North York Family Health Team.

Congregate settings

When the group realized that three North York shelters were not on Toronto Public Health’s list for flu vaccinations, Dr. Maria Muraca, Medical Director, NYFHT and James immediately reached out with open arms and available resources.  

Providing options was key to ensuring everyone has access. If shelters or homes had a vehicle, they could book an appointment with the NYFHT and drive clients to the parking lot to be vaccinated by a physician or nurse.

“The teams also brought supplies to facilities and vaccinated residents and staff on site,” says James. “We were able to lend a hand to 14 group homes and four shelters”.

The team also shared supplies with physicians and community agencies as well as a crew providing vaccinations in other local group homes.

“It wasn’t about how or where folks were getting their flu shot, we just wanted to make sure they had the opportunity.”

Every option available

Knowing the importance of supporting all populations in North York, 11 organizations partnered together to help make a walk-in clinic happen.

“Appointment-based testing works for many, but some find it difficult to book appointments including people whose first language is not English, some older adults and those without ready access to a computer or wifi,” says James.

After receiving a flu shot, individuals – many of whom were seniors – were asked to wait 15 minutes in order to monitor their symptoms. Staff at the walk-in clinics seized this opportunity to share resources. Community support services such as Better Living, chatted with older adults about the different services available to them during COVID, including friendly check-ins by phone, Meals on Wheels, mental health and addictions hotline and many more.

 “The flu clinic provided agencies with the opportunity to share crucial resources with at-risk seniors. Considering the digital divide, especially as it relates to linking seniors to resources, it is imperative to use opportunities such as the North York Family Health Team’s flu clinics to share critical resources,” says Diana Nazarov, Social Worker, Better Living Health and Community Services.

Two steps ahead

The flu clinics also enable the OHT to learn best practices that could support COVID vaccination when the time comes.

 “This was a great trial run, working across multiple organizations and testing different modalities to meet the needs of our community,” says James. 

The flu shot is still available at local pharmacies and public health. It’s not too late to protect against the flu!