Grassroots Healthcare

The 2019 Mayors’ Dinner Guests of Honour are being recognized for their compassionate grassroots approach to healthcare. They tackle Hepatitis C, refugee health, and primary care for those experiencing homelessness. Their efforts are chipping away at major health issues in our community from the ground up, developing new infrastructure on the ground, serving people where they are at.

St. John’s Clinic is the primary care clinic located within St. John’s Kitchen. It supports access to primary care, mental health and addictions services for people who are homeless/at risk of homelessness with a commitment to helping people to be as well as they can be. It is a Clinic that follows an outreach philosophy that responds to complexity, meeting people in the clinic, on the street, in supported housing, shelters, in other organizations, and in Mental Health and Drug Treatment courts. The Outreach model works by walking beside those most marginalized, working with housing, police, courts, hospitals and others to creatively problem solve the best response.

Dr. George Berrigan and Evelyn Gurney, RN are the heart of St. John’s Clinic. Working within an integrated community of supports, they care for those experiencing homelessness, addiction, mental health issues, and the complex health problems that arise. It is challenging work that responds to many interconnected problems. Every day must go beyond seeing addictions or mental health issues, but rather to see the reality of people deprived of their basic needs of family, belonging and caring and to extend a helping hand. Issues that normally require no more than rest, sleep, or good nutrition become much more complex when viewed through the lens of chronic homelessness. Dr. Berrigan and Evelyn look through that lens every day and form part of a community of supports for up to 2,000 people, doing so with a smile and a kind, open approach.

Sanctuary Refugee Health Centre provides patient-centred health care, recognizing issues arising from persecution, trauma, migratory stress, and social integration. They bridge cultural and linguistic differences by offering orientation and access to the Canadian health care system. At Sanctuary, in addition to culturally sensitive primary health care, patients have access to a wide variety of services on site, including psychological and mental health assessment; trauma counselling; dietary advice; assistance with settlement issues; help in completing applications for income security and disability benefits; health education; and special programs designed to meet needs around childbirth, parenting, and respect for diversity.

Dr. Michael Stephenson (Dr. Mike) and Margaret Brockett are the physician and associate director of Sanctuary Refugee Health Centre. This organization rose from humble beginnings in a church basement. Sanctuary has grown as has the number of refugees coming to Waterloo Region. When it became clear more services were needed to reduce the barriers their patients face, they added them, often paying out of pocket or finding creative ways to get funding. They have translators and social workers alongside their healthcare providers. The work of establishing a Refugee medical clinic is full of complications. Dr. Mike and Margaret have worked tirelessly to walk with their patients through the healthcare system, bridging the gaps as they find them. Sanctuary serves the person in front of them, and in doing so, creates a healthier community for all of us.

Sanguen is the province’s first charitable Hepatitis C service organization that has grown to do much more. It has evolved into a health-focused outreach organization that meets people where they are, intentionally walking together. Sanguen’s community health vans travel the streets providing primary care, harm reduction support, food and even fresh socks. Their grassroots approach has evolved with the opioid crisis with increased harm reduction supports. With a dedicated team of nurses, social support workers, outreach workers, and peer support workers, their vision is compassionate medical care for those with Hepatitis C while searching out those living on the edges, providing supports for those living on the streets.

Dr. Chris and Michelle Steingart founded Sanguen, with the goal of establishing a charitable grassroots health organization that would support those with Hepatitis C. The work quickly grew. Today there is their main office and clinic at 29 Young Street in Waterloo, two mobile community health vans that operate throughout Waterloo Region and Wellington Region and fixed outreach sites in Kitchener, Cambridge and Guelph. They also run a program where teams go out and find used needles to dispose of them safely. Their initiatives come, not from a top-down approach of how to solve the opioid crisis, but from the grassroots. Dr. Chris and Michelle have worked together, using their complementary skills as a married couple to establish an effective and committed harm reduction organization working on the front line of the opioid crisis. 


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