Integrated care in action: East Toronto Health Partners’ mobile flu clinics help seniors through flu season

A recent initiative by ETHP, involving VHA Home HealthCare and WoodGreen Community Services, saw 600 seniors receive their flu vaccine through convenient, door-to-door clinics.

Flu season puts strain on healthcare systems everywhere each winter. Last fall, as Canadians faced the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was important for as many people as possible to receive the flu vaccine to keep people healthy and out of hospital. A collaborative initiative by East Toronto Health Partners (ETHP), the Ontario Health Team (OHT) serving East Toronto, aimed to bring flu vaccines to vulnerable populations through a community-based approach to winter surge: mobile flu clinics.

“During this challenging time, many seniors I’ve encountered are afraid and would prefer to stay home, even if it means avoiding their annual flu shot,” says Sydney Olsen, a registered nurse (RN) involved in the mobile flu clinics.

ETHP’s mobile flu clinics are run by RNs and volunteers from VHA Home HealthCare (VHA) as well as staff from WoodGreen Community Services, both of which are ETHP partner organizations. During each clinic, the team visits community housing units to deliver door-to-door flu vaccines to some of East Toronto’s most vulnerable.

Rahman Korshidi, an RN who came out of early retirement to join VHA and help with the ETHP mobile flu clinics, says the program has made a big difference for residents.

“After a few months of being retired during the pandemic, I really felt I needed to do more to help, and I’m really happy I did. At the start of this role, I knew that I’d be going to buildings to administer flu shots, but what I didn’t expect was how appreciative these residents would be to have the service and expertise of RNs at their doorstep,” says Rahman.

But it is not only the door-to-door service that has made this program such a success. The collaboration of community partners is a crucial component.

Volunteers from VHA helped ETHP reach high-risk residents in East Toronto receive their flu vaccine this winter.

Volunteers from VHA helped ETHP reach high-risk residents in East Toronto receive their flu vaccine this winter.

“Each ETHP partner organization brings a unique set of resources and strengths to the project. To run this many mobile flu clinics is a massive undertaking with a lot of moving parts,” says Jatinder Dhaliwal, project manager of Ontario Health Team Initiatives and the community care unit at WoodGreen.

“Working with WoodGreen and Toronto Community Housing, we were able to target specific buildings to make the biggest impact possible,” he says, adding that this approach helped identify buildings where there was a population of seniors that would be considered high risk and where vaccinations would be a great method of preventative care.

Another key component was enlisting the help of volunteers from VHA, who helped with the non-clinical aspects of running mobile flu clinics.

“This work gives me an even deeper appreciation for those who are on the frontlines working with patients. I work alongside a nurse and we have an organized plan for each clinic,” says Gillian Eley, a VHA volunteer who has been a part of nearly every ETHP mobile flu clinic since they began in November.

“Many of the residents live alone. Ours might be the only visit that they get,” she says.

For East Toronto resident Karen Barnes, the flu clinic was a much-needed support. She had been eager to schedule a vaccine with her family doctor, but appointments this year were limited to one day a week due to the pandemic. In addition to that barrier, Karen also experiences pain in her back and knees, often leaving her hesitant to go out any more than necessary.

“When I found out about this clinic being offered, I thought ‘This is perfect for me,’” shares Karen. “I’ve had a bad flu before and I don’t want to ever feel like that again. I think it’s really important for everyone to get their vaccine.”

Prior to this year, another resident, Bruce Walhur, hadn’t received a flu vaccine in over a decade.

“It was hard for me to afford transportation to a clinic,” says Bruce. “My neighbours and I were all very excited that the service would be coming to our building.”

This year, the ETHP mobile flu clinics have vaccinated over 600 residents.

“A community-based approach has been so important in the fight against COVID-19 and these mobile flu clinics are another example of the ways health and community care partners are coming together to provide care in East Toronto,” says Carol Annett, president and CEO of VHA.