May 8, 2024

St. Joe’s Clinicians Take to the Streets to Provide Care 

A cooler, loaded with ice packs and bottles of water, and a collection of light weight, second-hand clothing accompanies the medical kits hauled onto the passenger van. As the weather warms up, these ‘extras’ are equally important to the patients who will be visited by two nurses during this unique medical house call for people living with schizophrenia. Twice a week, St. Joe’s Mobile Mental Health Clinic brings necessary outpatient care to the doorstep of patients unable to get to the West 5th campus.  

Photo credit: Cathie Coward, The Hamilton Spectator.

It began as a short-term necessity during the height of the pandemic. Some patients were too fearful of contracting COVID-19 to take public transit or even walk through the doors of the hospital. But many depend on consistent medication injections for stability, so the best solution was to deliver care to the patient’s home environment in the safest manner possible. The passenger van gave them space and privacy to conduct blood work and administer injections. It also provided an environment that could be easily sanitized between patients, and minimized the risk of COVID-19 exposure to staff, by eliminating their need to enter congregate care settings.  

Now, with the pandemic in the rear view, this fortunate extension is also viewed as a necessity for strengthening St. Joe’s ability to serve some of the Hospital’s most vulnerable patients. Bringing mental health care to the doorsteps of clients is an innovative way to helps them maintain their treatment schedule. The mobile clinic has also helped break down common barriers to care by serving patients in remote areas, reducing the need for transit to and from appointments, and offering a number of services together under one roof to address varying health concerns that can often be associated with mental illness.  

“Some patients are not self-aware about their illness, so maintaining a medication routine is not top of mind,” says Yasheika Turner, one of four nurses who travel on the mobile clinic. “Our visits help to keep their condition stable.”   

Care homes are not the only locations attended by the mobile clinicians. Not all patients have a permanent residence. Getting to know their clients’ habits and hangouts is an important part of the job.  

“Sometimes we find them in their favourite coffee shop or at the public library,” adds Theresa Radocaj, also part of the mobile team. “Other times, it means driving around downtown streets in the areas they frequent.”  

As difficult as it can be to locate patients who are unhoused, this special team knows the value of their work. It’s much more than delivering necessary medications. Wellness checks are common. Meeting patients where they are strengthens the relationship between clinician and client. It also gives them a better impression of how a person is doing.  

Since 2020 when the unit first hit the streets, the team has administered care to more than 250 unique individuals, making thousands of visits to people from Beamsville to Brantford.  

There are roughly 800 outpatients registered with St. Joseph’s Schizophrenia Outpatient Services, according to Unit Manager Alycia Gillespie. The van meets the needs of 10 percent of that total.  

“This mobile clinic isn’t just making the process more convenient for a patient,” says Gillespie. “It truly is providing a more holistic approach to patient care.”  

Although the mobile clinic has become vital to the care St. Joe’s delivers as the leading provider of mental health services in the region, and the second largest in Ontario, it’s not something that’s funded by provincial operating dollars. That’s why the Hospital relies on community support to continue fueling the successful program. Thanks to the generosity of community partners and donors, including SC Johnson and Alectra Utilities, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Foundation has provided funding for the start and continued operation of the mobile clinic, keeping it on the road until at least the end of 2024.   

“This is a great example of a solution that was born out of necessity during the pandemic but has proven to be so successful that we hope to continue offering this mobile service long after the pandemic has stabilized,” says Gillespie. “We’re so grateful that our donors and supporters recognize how important this program is to sustaining the mental health of our community.” 

St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton (St. Joe’s) is the regional lead for mental health and addictions care in our region and the second largest provider in Ontario. St. Joe’s serves a population of more than 1.4 million people in Hamilton, across Brant and Haldimand counties, throughout Grimsby, St. Catharines, Niagara, and into Burlington and Waterdown, too. From emergency mental health care for those in crisis, to substance use programs for youth and adults, St. Joe’s offers a full spectrum of mental health and addictions care. That means that whether someone is living with an eating disorder or bi-polar disorder, depression or dementia, St. Joe’s is here to help. This commitment has earned the hospital a national reputation.   

St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton is a proud member of St. Joseph’s Health System, one of Canada’s largest healthcare corporations serving more than two million Canadians.  

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