Reducing Barriers To Health Care For The Homeless
“My patient and I both knew he was dying,” wrote the doctor. “Was there someone I should call? Someone he wanted to see? Not a one. The only thing worse than suffering a serious illness is suffering it alone.” Yet people facing illness and the end of life alone is a growing reality. One in four seniors in Canada lives alone. One in five say they are lonely.
Haven Toronto recognizes the impact of isolation on health and wellbeing. The downtown drop-in provides a safe and welcoming space for elder men age 50+, many of whom have been impacted by poverty and homelessness.
Earlier this year, for the first time in the organization’s 86 years, Haven Toronto hired a full-time, onsite registered nurse; Barry Tierney. The position was made possible with funding from the P. and L. Odette Charitable Foundation. Not surprising, having Nurse Tierney on-location five days a week has had an immediate and noticeable impact.
Elder homeless men who struggle to get medical support, who struggle with barriers to health care, receive the time and attention of Nurse Tierney. The open-door policy makes health care access easier. For clients of Haven Toronto, the impact is life-changing. For one elder man in particular, it was life-saving.
When Barry Tierney first met Ryan, a client of Haven Toronto, the nurse knew something was wrong. Ryan was not well. Quite the opposite. He was deathly ill. But his condition was not being treated because it hadn’t been diagnosed. Ryan hadn’t seen his family doctor in a decade.
Nurse Tierney escorted Ryan to the local Emergency for an examination and tests. Days later, Tierney was there for Ryan when he received word that he has cancer. And Haven Toronto’s registered nurse was there for support through Ryan’s chemotherapy.
Loneliness is proven to make recovery from illness more difficult. For clients of Haven Toronto, having access to a full-time onsite nurse and the support of peers means improved odds of better health.
Says Nurse Tierney, “Ryan may have died if he didn’t go to hospital that day. Because of that he’s getting chemotherapy. If Ryan didn’t have us for support and advocacy, he may have just given up.”