Members in the Media

Georgian Bay FHT screens patients for poverty to improve health

The Connection article published on August 23, 2018

By John Edwards, Collingwood Connection

While the rising cost of living is making it difficult for some in South Georgian Bay to make ends meet, this could have a negative impact on their health

“We know poverty is linked to a lot of illness in health,” said Dr. Harry O’Halloran.

The Georgian Bay Family Health Team, 211 Community Connection and County of Simcoe Paramedicine Services have partnered to help improve the health of Collingwood residents.

O’Halloran said doctors in the area are using a poverty-screening tool in hopes of connecting patients with services.

“Within the screening tool there are resources that we can use to help people,” he said. “People appreciate you asking, you have to be sensitive in how you ask.”

O’Halloran said he asks patients a number of questions to determine what their living situation is.

“There has been a lot of evidence around asking them if they’ve got their income taxes done or do they have trouble making ends meet at the end of the month,” he said. “Those simple questions often tell you a lot.”

He said not submitting income taxes often correlates with poverty, and as a result, people aren’t aware they could be eligible for social programs.

“People who have trouble making ends meet aren’t able to access community services, so they don’t know or haven’t got the resources (for) how to access disability,” he said. “They may not know there is help to get medications covered, so they don’t take care of themselves as well. They can’t necessarily afford to join fitness clubs or they don’t know the YMCA would subsidize them.”

Kyle MacCallum is a community paramedicine co-ordinator with the County of Simcoe.

He said local paramedics screen individuals after receiving 911 calls.

“The call originates for a reason that isn’t going to be fixed by going to the hospital,” he said.

MacCallum said when they visit the home, paramedics ask patients a variety of questions.

“You start to ask them questions around how they’re coping at home,” he said.

“What the barriers are and what they don’t have in their living situation that they need to thrive.”

In both cases, the information is referred to 211, an organization that has access to a network of community services and organizations who do a needs assessment.

Call centre manager for 211, Rhonda Thompson said the centre receives a lot of calls about people struggling with financial issues, especially if they are on social assistance or disability.

“If they are requiring community services, there isn’t a lot of extra money to pay for paid services,” she said. “Is there subsidized programs? Can we advocate? Can we go to service clubs, can we go to church groups, can we go to other programs to see where we can get these people help?”

MacCallum said they’ve seen about a 29 per cent reduction in 911 calls as a result of the program.

“We’re just not bringing those patients in; they’re not being seen at the emergency department because we’re having those needs met at home where the patients want to be,” he said.

Click here to access The Connection article