Toronto

Hospital network sets aside $10M parcel of land for affordable housing

The University Health Network (UHN) has set aside a $10-million parcel of land in Parkdale for an affordable housing project, which it says is a direct response to the needs of its low-income patients.

University Health Network's initiative directly answers needs of low-income patients, executive director says

The UHN's executive director of health and social policy, Dr. Andrew Boozary, said the network is partnering with the City of Toronto and United Way on the Social Medicine Initiative. (Submitted by University Health Network)

The University Health Network (UHN) has aside a $10-million parcel of land in Parkdale for an affordable housing project, which it says is a direct response to the needs of its low-income patients.

The UHN's executive director of health and social policy, Dr. Andrew Boozary, said the network is partnering with the City of Toronto and United Way on the Social Medicine Initiative.

The aim is to ease homelessness and improve the health of people living in communities served by Toronto Western and Toronto General hospitals.

"One of the neighbourhoods is Parkdale, where we see a lot of homeless patients or precariously-housed patients with a lot of both medical and social needs that have been coming into our Toronto Western Hospital," Boozary told CBC Toronto.

"And one of the things that we realized, again from our data and from working with our partners, is that we actually have the highest rate of homeless patients coming into our emergency department at the Toronto Western."

More than 20 repeat visits in a year

The UHN is a healthcare and medical research organization affiliated with the University of Toronto's faculty of medicine. In addition to Toronto Western and Toronto General, it includes the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Toronto Rehab and the Michener Institute.

UHN data for the period April 2018 to March 2019 shows 61 patients each made more than 20 visits to Toronto General and Toronto Western hospitals. That's a total of 2,096 visits for each of those patients, out of a total of 48,182 visits to UHN emergency departments.

"We realized that to better serve these patients, to better provide care, we have to be thinking about where they're being discharged home to," Boozary said.

"For many of them, if they do not have adequate or stable housing, that is a major predicament for any health improvement."

UHN said this is the first time ever in Canada that a health network is building housing to directly answer the needs of its low-income patients.

The network said sick people can't get better if they don't have secure access to food, are vulnerably housed and without ongoing social supports.

"The reality is, the social safety net in many ways is being torn apart. Those patients fall on us at the hospital and we have to recognize that we have to not only think differently but behave differently in the social crisis that we're facing," Boozary told CBC news.

With files from CBC's Jasmin Seputis