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August 27, 2018

Peer Support is Trending in Ontario

 

It can be said that peer support in Ontario is developing in new directions recognized in the mainstream.

A major reason recognized by peers and professionals alike is that “human connection is deeply healing”.  This quote from an ER doctor comes directly from a recent CBC AM Radio documentary show hosted by Toronto ER physician Dr. Brian Goldman.  He devoted an entire episode (1) to highlighting the work of peer navigators in the emergency department at North Bay Regional Health Centre.  The partnership between the consumer/survivor initiative CSI and the institution was covered matter-of-factly and stressed how a client felt much better with empathetic understanding from a peer, while hospital staff echoed the value of extra support.  What could have been portrayed as a cultural and operational oddity instead seemed valued and seamless within an institutional setting and showed the transferability of peer-to-peer connection.

The emergence, growth, and learning potential of a fully funded and supported peer support organization by the Mississauga Halton LHIN has been documented by EENet (2).  What is intriguing is seeing a people with lived experience, staff from the LHIN, and stakeholders working in good faith to provide adequate funding to embed and then grow peer support in a systemic way.  In effect, the LHIN courageously recognized a “gap” between the peer supporters it was funding at the time and the numbers that were warranted – and acted on it. The current stage of development sees training that encourages “mainstream” organizations to consider how to cultivate their own peer support and espousing a wide-ranging evaluation plan with implications for the broader provincial mental health and addictions sector.

Both initiatives point to a broader theme in Canadian healthcare – patient engagement.  Peer support started as lived experience put to good use between individuals, and naturally migrated to stakeholder tables.  In Ontario, all healthcare is now legislated to some degree of accountability through LHINs’ mandated patient and family councils.  But as this Healthy Debate article (3) notes, the role of patients in health care organizations faces obstacles.  One is that the accreditation process of the past has involved peer professionals evaluating one another with no surveyors with backgrounds primarily as patients or clients.  Another that comes out at the end of the article is the very honest health equity issue laid open:  is the compensation of travel costs, per diem and expenses (and the implied need for leave from work) truly sufficient to financially accommodate a patient surveyor’s work?  And how would an accreditation agency recruit and train qualified consumers?

The answer may well lie in the evolution of peer support, as former “clients” continue to impress others in contributing lived experience expertise.  While peer support advocates will always speak out in favour of new accountability-based funding for evidence-based initiatives that have been proven to improve quality of life and reduce hospital-based services use, an equally important benefit to mental health and addiction programs would be the objective and constructive role of program evaluation by and for those who know it best – from the other side of the table.

With the provincial government poised to invest its own money ($1.8 billion over the next decade) and an equal amount coming from Ottawa in a dedicated mental health and addiction transfer envelope), this timely report from the Mental Health Commission of Canada is proposing a Mental Health and Addictions Performance Measurement Framework (4).  Through resource compilation and summarization of priorities, the document considers that a framework requires future engagement and consultation and should be aligned along strategic priorities.

To learn more about the provincial picture of peer support, consider registering for our 27th Annual Conference and Annual General Meeting taking place in Toronto October 1-2 at the BMO Institute for Learning.  Full details are available on our website:  opdi.org.

Raymond Cheng is the Policy Analyst and Knowledge Exchange Facilitator for OPDI.  OPDI is the provincial voice of more than 50 consumer/survivor initiatives, peer support organizations, patient and family councils, and alternative businesses and has trained well over 500 peer supporters in Ontario.  Our website is at opdi.org.

 

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