After four months of serving the community, the Mid-West Ontario Health Team administered nearly 23,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at the West End YMCA. (Credit: @MidWestTO_OHT on Twitter)
This past February, the Mid-West Ontario Health Team (MWT-OHT) organized a COVID-19 community vaccine clinic at the West End YMCA for vulnerable and at-risk populations in downtown Toronto’s west-end.
The clinic operated for more than four months, serving the community, and administering 22,903 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The clinic was a collaboration with many of the MWT-OHT partners, all committed to creating a safe and accessible clinic for the community.
The MWT-OHT is made up of many (50+) health organizations including the team at Kensington Health, community health centres, family health teams, hospitals, community support services, mental health and substance use services, long-term care, primary care physicians and nurse practitioners. All partners of the OHT contributed to the covid response and vaccine efforts, and the majority contributed directly to the West End YMCA vaccine clinic.
“The best part was seeing everyone putting their hand up to help get the community back to normal,” added Edward Aust, Corporate Planning Specialist at Kensington Health, and member of the MWT-OHT Secretariat. “Everyone was willing to do whatever it took and it speaks to the strength of our OHT partnership.”
Putting together a vaccine clinic during one of the peaks of the pandemic was not an easy task, especially with the ever-changing messaging, mandates, and eligibility criteria. Together, the MWT-OHT made it possible.
“For all of us to come together, plan and execute an accessible vaccine clinic was really beautiful to see,” said Sagal Ali, Health Equity and Community Relations Manager at Kensington Health, and member of the MWT-OHT Secretariat. “It’s a huge testament to the commitment and dedication each partner had towards the Ontario Health Team (OHT) model. It shows that when we come together, we can make magic happen.”
Creating an accessible and welcoming space
Edward and Sagal, among others, represented Kensington in a collaboration with other OHT partners in making this clinic possible. One of the main goals for the team was to provide a welcoming and accessible service within a community-based location for people living in the region to get their vaccine.
“The YMCA is not a big and complex building that a senior or someone with a disability would feel intimated going in to,” said Sagal. “For many in the area, it is a building and location that they are very familiar with and easy to navigate.”
“We tried to make the location as easy as possible for our community to access,” added Edward. “Not only was it a familiar location for those in the community, but we had staff along the streets and entrance helping with navigation and answering any questions that our visitors had.”
This vaccine clinic was also the first fully bilingual clinic in Toronto, thanks to the partnership with Centre Francophone du Grand Toronto. In addition to signage, there was always a staff member at the clinic able to speak French. The clinic also supported language services in all languages thanks to the partnership with Access Alliance. “Many times, I would hear from visitors: ‘it’s so amazing to receive healthcare in my language,’” said Sagal.
In addition to being welcoming with language and location, the clinic was also low barrier. This meant that the clinic removed as many requirements as possible for the community to access this service, while also making the clinic as welcoming as possible. The clinic removed the need for an OHIP card for those who are not insured and provided special accommodations for those with developmental disabilities while welcoming the many diverse communities that the MWT-OHT serves.
“Our goal was to be as welcoming as possible and tailor our clinic to our unique communities,” said Edward. “For example, we reserved specific clinic hours each day for individuals with developmental disabilities. Our partners in our OHT, who work closely with these groups, would be directly on site to design the clinic flow in a way that maximized comfort and reduced fear.”
“We also always had a privacy area,” added Sagal. “It was an enclosed area for people to bare their arm for the vaccine if they felt uncomfortable doing so in public for modesty or other reasons.”
“The way we provided care through this clinic taught us a lot about how we want to design care as an OHT,” said Edward.
A collaborative effort
On June 30, after four months of successfully providing the COVID-19 vaccine to eligible community members and at-risk individuals, the MWT-OHT made a decision to close the clinic.
The highly dedicated staff and volunteers of the community vaccine clinic have continued to support the ongoing vaccination efforts throughout the City of Toronto, supporting the ultimate goal of vaccinating 90% of our community.
This clinic would not be possible without the dedication of the Women’s College Hospital team and their clinical leadership; Ryerson University, George Brown College and University of Toronto for their student support; Centre Francophone du Grand Toronto for supporting the fully bilingual clinic; the many partners who contributed time and staff to the clinic and planning; Access Alliance for language services they provided; and Kensington Health for their leadership.
Lastly, to the members of the MWT-OHT Vaccine Planning Table who have spent countless hours supporting this important clinic – all your support has made this clinic possible.