Michelle Sullivan used to have to travel across the city to visit her son’s pediatrician.
Then, she was referred to the Paediatric School Outreach Program in the west end, run by St. Joseph’s Health Centre and the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). Not only was the Parkdale Public School clinic closer to home, but it also put 11-year-old Anthony, who was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in Grade 1, at ease.
“A school environment in a familiar neighbourhood is more relaxed,” Sullivan said. “The doctors at the school know us and care. My son is more than just a name on a paper.”
The program’s aim is to provide care for inner-city elementary students in the school system, breaking down barriers that populations in these communities face when accessing healthcare. The inter-professional research team has also been conducting demographic research.
“One of the best ways of learning how to improve is by measuring what you do,” said Dr. Anne Wormsbecker, pediatrician at the outreach program and Anthony’s doctor.
A descriptive study led by Dr. Wormsbecker showed most families accessing care reported lower incomes and English as a second language. In fact, a significant portion of families identified Hungarian as a first language, prompting the program to tailor and translate resources accordingly. This research on the first 15 months of the program is the start to understanding children’s needs, which often extend beyond the clinic appointment.
“There are a wide range of demographics we can study now,” Dr. Wormsbecker said. “We’re starting to look at clinical characteristics. The more we know about our diagnoses and treatment, the better we can serve our patients.”
Staff are also in the process of implementing self-regulation training for themselves, patients and families to strengthen the therapeutic alliance and the patient experience. This is an important vision for the future of the program.
“Wellness and resilience has a ripple effect,” said Dr. Heather Yang, chief of Paediatrics at St. Joseph’s. “Our team is interested in learning more about stress responses in children, their families and themselves. We’re going to evaluate our resilience when working with vulnerable populations and hope this will only bring us closer to the community.”
The program would not exist without its close ties to the community and the TDSB.
“The whole community is working together for the health of these kids,” Dr. Yang said.
St. Joseph’s is also collaborating with St. Michael’s Hospital’s school-based clinics on further research that spans the whole city.
For Sullivan and her son, this community-focused approach has made an impact on their family.
“He went from having behavioural issues to being completely calm,” she said.
“He’s a different child with their support.”
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