On transit, TV and in the community: How ETHP’s caregiver support project is helping unpaid caregivers in East Toronto

Group of people standing beside ad at subway station

From left, Caregiver Advisory Group members Khadija and Aspasia; Kendelle LaBella, Project Manager, Caregiver Support Initiative; Caregiver Advisory Group member Rabeya; and Nena Pendevska, Project Manager, Ontario Health Team Initiatives and East Toronto Health Partners Engagement. The group removed their masks briefly to take a photo.

If you’ve taken the TTC through Toronto’s east end recently, you may have noticed a series of blue-and-green ads speaking to a group that is often described as the unsung heroes of the healthcare system: unpaid caregivers.

“Are you caring for someone? Do you feel stressed? Overwhelmed?” the ad reads in English, Greek, Gujarati, Bengali, Simplified Chinese and Urdu, six languages that are commonly spoken and recognized in East Toronto. “There is help available.”

The poster lists three valuable resources for unpaid caregivers, including the Toronto Seniors Helpline, the Ontario Caregiver Helpline and 211 Ontario.

These resources offer support services for family members and friends who provide unpaid care to someone – often a loved one – with physical, cognitive or mental health conditions. These services include home healthcare, personal support workers and respite services, which give unpaid caregivers a break from their duties.

The ad also includes a brief description and operating hours for each resource, which have also been translated into the aforementioned languages. A QR code on the poster brings people to TorontoSeniorsHelpline.ca/caregivers, where there is information about additional multilingual supports for unpaid caregivers.

Ads aim to speak to diverse caregivers

Ad at subway station that outlines support services for caregivers

The caregiver support initiative ads are on display at TTC stations in Toronto’s east end until April 25.

The TTC ads are posted at Broadview, Pape, Donlands, Greenwood, Coxwell, Main Street and Woodbine stations until April 25. They’re part of a larger campaign led by East Toronto Health Partners’ (ETHP) Caregiver Advisory Group and WoodGreen Community Services that aims to increase awareness of the support services that are available for local unpaid caregivers, especially those who do not speak English as a first language.

According to the Ontario Caregiver Organization (OCO), there are four million caregivers across the province.

“These are people who give physical or emotional support to their family, friends, partners and neighbours,” says Aspasia, a member of ETHP’s Caregiver Advisory Council and a former caregiver. “As the population ages, there will likely be more and more people who become caregivers, so it’s important that they know what help is available to them.”

ETHP’s Caregiver Advisory Group, a group of current and former caregivers in East Toronto, formed in January 2021 to help guide and advise the Ontario Health Team’s (OHT) services, programs and initiatives so unpaid caregivers are considered at every level of care.

Since November, they’ve been collaborating on this caregiver support initiative to help ensure local unpaid caregivers know where to go if they are feeling stressed, burned out or overwhelmed, or if they just need someone to talk to about what they are going through.

This is especially important given the COVID-19 pandemic, when unpaid caregivers have reported providing a 26% increase in care for their loved ones compared to before the pandemic. According to a 2021 report from the OCO, 50% of caregivers say they are in desperate need of a break but have difficulties finding additional support or time for themselves. This has significantly impacted unpaid caregivers’ mental health, with many reporting they feel lonely, isolated and depressed.

Resources placed strategically in community

In an effort to address this, the caregiver support initiative also includes multilingual ads broadcast on Omni TV; volunteers sharing multilingual flyers at places of worship, grocery stores and other places in East Toronto; and distributing multilingual materials like business card-sized handouts, tearpads and fridge magnets with local family doctors and service providers so these individuals can share these with their clients who are unpaid caregivers.

All of these items list resources like the ones on the TTC ads, as well as others like the WoodGreen Caregiver Support and Wellness Program and Distress Centres of Greater Toronto.

“As caregivers, we take our loved ones to the doctor, we go to the grocery store, we take public transit,” Aspasia says. “That’s what we were thinking about when we were brainstorming the best places to share this information. We wanted caregivers to be able to see and take note of these resources – whether that means taking a picture or jotting them down – while they were going about their daily routines.”

Input of local unpaid caregivers key to project’s success

Kendelle LaBella, Project Manager for the caregiver support initiative, says the insights of Caregiver Advisory Group members like Aspasia during the development of the campaign have been invaluable.

She describes the process as one of “co-design” where WoodGreen and ETHP staff have worked closely with the Caregiver Advisory Group to determine the best ways to increase unpaid caregivers’ awareness of the support services available to them.

For example, the Caregiver Advisory Group shared that, oftentimes, people who do not speak English as a first language do not recognize the automated phone systems in English that they hear when they call resources such as 211 Ontario, so they feel discouraged and hang up.

To help address this, the team worked together to develop multilingual step-by-step instructions for how unpaid caregivers can call 211 Ontario for help in their native language.

This information is included in the multilingual materials that the team put together and are distributing. (Family doctors and service providers in East Toronto who are interested in receiving the business card-sized handouts, tearpads and fridge magnets with resources can contact the caregiver support initiative team online to request them at no cost.)

The step-by-step instructions are also included on TorontoSeniorsHelpline.ca/caregivers, which the Caregiver Advisory Group helped develop.

On that website, the team ensured the different languages that the resources are available in are listed in large text near the top of the page so that those who read English, Greek, Gujarati, Bengali, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese and Urdu can easily identify and navigate to their preferred language.

Members of the Caregiver Advisory Group also assisted with reviewing the translated materials to help ensure they made sense for native speakers of these languages. The languages were determined based on information gathered from WoodGreen’s Diverse Caregiver Access Project and demographic data from the City of Toronto.

“There are some words in English that do not translate directly into other languages – for example, the word caregiver,” says Aspasia, who assisted with the Greek translations. “In this case, we decided to use the phrase ‘Are you caring for someone?’ rather than ‘Are you a caregiver?’ to ensure the materials are more widely understood.”

Other ways the initiative supports unpaid caregivers

The caregiver support initiative also includes the Caregiver NICE Fund, which provides small amounts of funding for basic necessities and other supports for local unpaid caregivers where no other funding sources are available or have been exhausted.

Last year, the program supported 14 unpaid caregivers in East Toronto over three weeks, helping them access things like groceries, incontinence products and personal support and respite workers. This year, the program was expanded to run for 11 weeks and supported 61 local unpaid caregivers.

“Caregivers are an essential part of how we support individuals to remain living in the community and we know there are many different services available to them,” says Kevin Edmonson, Vice President, Community Care, Seniors and Wellness at WoodGreen Community Services and Director, Emergency, Critical Care and Cardiology at Michael Garron Hospital. “However, the way we often connect individuals to available services can be narrow or within a specific organization. This type of initiative helps to raise awareness of services for unpaid caregivers across a number of organizations and provide a suite of offerings.”

Along with the TTC and Omni ads, and materials being posted and distributed throughout the community, the caregiver support initiative also includes a large billboard displayed at Danforth and Jones Avenues.

The billboard reads “Caregivers need care too” in multiple languages and lists the Toronto Seniors Helpline phone number and website.

“I would have absolutely appreciated seeing a resource like this when I was a caregiver for my mother,” Aspasia says. “To know that you can talk to someone or have someone come to your home to help – that means a lot to caregivers when they’re feeling burned out and looking for ways to cope.”

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