ETHP members launch equity-driven, community-led research study to better identify unique health needs of East Toronto

A group of people standing in an apartment building lobby.

Community health ambassadors in Taylor-Massey and Thorncliffe Park are key to the first phase of this research study.

Members of East Toronto Health Partners (ETHP), the Ontario Health Team (OHT) serving East Toronto, have launched an equity-driven, community-led research study that aims to improve local healthcare, social care and community services. 

Phase 1 of the research study began in March. It involved community health ambassadors interacting with people who live in Taylor-Massey and Thorncliffe Park to complete a survey. The survey asks questions about how non-medical factors like income, employment status and access to food – also known as the social determinants of health – affect people’s health and well-being.  

Residents in the Taylor-Massey and Thorncliffe Park neighbourhoods completed the survey in the first three weeks of the project. Their responses will provide valuable insight into which social determinants of health affect local residents – and the degree to which they affect local residents – allowing ETHP to develop and improve healthcare and social services programs that address these needs. 

The research study is led by the Patient-Oriented Research Team at Michael Garron Hospital (MGH), Flemingdon Health Centre (FHC) and TNO – The Neighborhood Organization, in collaboration with the East Effort Project. All of these organizations are members of ETHP. 

“This partnership is significant – not only are we bringing different healthcare organizations together, but we are tapping into the knowledge and expertise of community members,” says Dr. Sara Shearkhani, Evaluation and Equity Scientist and a member of the Patient-Oriented Research Team at MGH. 

“This project is very important to us because it will help us understand the unique challenges, experiences, access to healthcare services, social determinants of health, and health disparities faced by the community we serve,” added Abdul Rashid, a community health ambassador who supported the project. 

From ambassadors to researchers 

Community health ambassadors – people who are seen as community leaders and are deeply involved in the neighbourhoods where they live – are key to the first phase of this research study. In their roles, ambassadors help connect community members to the healthcare, social and community services they need. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they did this by going door to door to help people book vaccine appointments and answering questions related to COVID-19.  

Now, community health ambassadors are further supporting local residents through this research study. A team of nine ambassadors from Taylor-Massey and Thorncliffe Park helped co-design and modify the survey so the questions made sense for community members.  

A group of people sitting around a table and looking at a presentation.

Ambassadors received training on how to conduct outreach and help people complete the survey.

The ambassadors also received training on how to conduct outreach and help people complete the survey. MGH’s Patient-Oriented Research Team, in partnership with Health Commons Solutions Lab, provided this training.

The research training taught me about the methods used in data collection, how to apply concepts from courses to reallife situations, and how to sharpen my problem-solving skills, says Farjana Yesmin, a community health ambassador on the team. 

Toward equitable, community-led research 

The next steps in this research study include expanding the data collection to people in other neighbourhoods in East Toronto, thanks to the continued support of ambassadors. If you’re aged 18 and older and live in East Toronto, you can contribute to this study by completing the survey online before July 6, 2024.

Next phases will also involve evaluating the approach and creating reports that highlight the health and social needs of East Toronto neighborhoods. These reports will then inform the design of healthcare and social services programs, as well as the reallocation of resources needed to ensure local residents’ needs are met. The work will also engage additional partners, such as the City of Toronto and the University of Toronto. 

A group of people standing in front of a projector screen.

Community health ambassadors who are supporting ETHP’s research study.

These efforts are part of an ongoing commitment at ETHP to transform patients’ and community members’ roles from being research subjects to becoming partners and co-leaders of research. Some members of this ETHP research study recently co-authored a research article called “Walk the Talk: Empowering Patients and Community Members in Healthcare Delivery Research” about this topic. The article was published in Longwoods in April. 

“In East Toronto, the future of health equity is community-driven,” Dr. Shearkhani adds, “and together, we are paving the way for a healthier, more equitable tomorrow.” 


The research study’s team is co-led by Dr. Sara Shearkhani; Razia Rashed, Community Co-Lead at ETHP; Simran Isani, Research Assistant, Patient-Oriented Research at MGH; Hamna Mughal, Community Engagement and Recovery Worker at FHC; and Hammad Shaikh, Community Health Ambassador Lead at FHC. The community health ambassadors involved in this work are Abdul Rashid, Denise Gokool, Eshrat Meshkat, Farjana Yesmin, Sandhya Rani Golla, Shimanta Hrishit and Shrouq Abdulraheem. 

The effort is supported by Jen Quinlan, CEO at FHC; Ravi Subramaniam, Director, Partnerships and Hub at TNO; Karma Lhamo, Manager, Community Development and Special Projects at TNO; Dr. Anne Wojtak, Administrative Co-Lead at ETHP; Dr. Jeff Powis, Medical Co-Lead at ETHP; and Dr. Kelly Smith, Interim Chief Scientific Officer and Inaugural Michael Garron Chair in Patient-Oriented Research at MGH. 

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