Caring connections

When it comes to building relationships with the most vulnerable in our community, lived experience can make all the difference.

The Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team (HAMSMaRT) is a mobile interdisciplinary health outreach service that launched in 2016 with the support of HCF. Since then, the service has provided health care to more than 400 people in Hamilton who struggle with homelessness, addiction and mental illness. The innovative program offers care where patients feel most comfortable, whether that’s at home, in a shelter, on a street corner or at a coffee shop.

This year, a grant from The Milne McGrath Fund at HCF is making an already successful program even better by funding a peer support worker.

Peers are part of the community HAMSMaRT wants to reach. They provide a bridge between marginalized community members and the health-care team, since even the most motivated patients often face barriers, such as precarious housing, that make it hard to stay connected. The peers’ lived experience grants them a level of credibility and trust that takes a longer time to build for traditional care workers.
HAMSMaRT learned the power of informal peer support when it joined Keeping Six, a community-based organization founded in response to the opioid crisis. Keeping Six members with lived experience of drug use connected HAMSMaRT to patients who had been poorly served by the traditional medical community, resulting in successful referrals and treatment.

Now that the peer support role is official, informal connections have been formalized, making relationships with patients more sustainable. “It takes less time for patients to feel comfortable,” says HAMSMaRT co-founder Dr. Tim O’Shea. “Communication is more open and we’re able to deal with their health issues more effectively.”

Excerpt from Fall 2019 Legacy newsletter