OCanada.com with Carolyn Snider 13 June 2019
It happens almost daily, says Dr. Carolyn Snider, chief of emergency medicine at St. Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto: A person arrives in her department with an issue that is, on its face, absolutely not an emergency. They just need a prescription refill.
Just a few days ago, she said, a man came in who had lost his prescription and hadn’t taken a necessary medication for four days. Even if he’d had the slip of paper, paying for the meds would have been a struggle.
“He was homeless. His bag had been stolen I believe,” said Snider, who estimates about 40 per cent of her clinical time is taken up dealing with issues that are actually social, not medical, in nature.
The hospital was able to connect the man with a social worker who helped him fill the prescription and find a place to stay, and arranged a meal for him because he hadn’t eaten in the past day.
“When the chief complaint in an emergency room is a prescription refill, I know there’s a lot underlying that. In fact, the easy part of my job was getting him that prescription,” Snider said.
She will be speaking in front of an audience of more than 100 female business leaders on Friday at the Breakfast of Influencers in downtown Toronto. The event, put on by hospital’s MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions and St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation, is organized around the theme of how to make Toronto into “the world’s healthiest city.”
Snider hopes the event will be an eye-opener.
“I think I can bring (business leaders) a perspective that most of the people in that room won’t have had,” she said. “I come from the same advantage they came from. It wasn’t until I was in an emergency department and saw what disadvantage truly meant, that I understood how there are barriers to being able to obtain the kind of care we all assume every Canadian gets.”
Snider said people who are disadvantaged come to the emergency department when they need help because they know they will never be turned away. In her talk, she said she will emphasize the need for increased funding to grow research into evidence-based approaches to providing emergency care to disadvantaged people, but also into ways to keep them from needing to go there in the first place.
She hopes to start a dialogue with “those who may have power in government and policy, and private corporations that may be looking for opportunities to help.”
Friday’s event is bringing together doctors and advocates who work on the social aspects of health. Dr. Nav Persaud, a family doctor at St. Michael’s who is researching the impact of offering free and easy access to essential medications, will also speak. Social epidemiologist Dr. Patricia O’Campo is moderating. But Snider is most excited to hear from Vivian, a veterinary technician student and advocate who survived a period of homelessness and now lives independently.
The idea of Toronto being “The World’s Healthiest City” means “different things at different levels,” Snider said, but, “For me as a physician, I would love to never feel like one of the best things I did for a patient was provide them a sandwich.”