Bailão pledges seniors’ public health plan as official start of mayoral race nears
A Toronto mayoral candidate is promising to harness a program that helped the city address the COVID-19 pandemic and use it as a tool to help improve seniors’ health.
Ana Bailão said if she’s elected in this spring’s mayoral byelection, she will pivot hundreds of community ambassadors who were used to boost vaccine rates in many Toronto neighbhourhoods. Those 600 workers were deployed by more than 30 community organizations to help Toronto Public Health bridge divides that kept people from getting a vaccine.
The $6-million program has been lauded by public health officials and consultants who reviewed its results last year. They found the workers helped break down language barriers and address misinformation that lead to some opting not to get the shot.
The former city councillor said now that the pandemic is entering a different phase, these workers could be a valuable resource to help support Toronto’s seniors. She’d like to expand their work and estimates it would cost $13.5 million, a cost that would be shared between the city and province.
“We want to take advantage of 600 ambassadors that speak over 50 languages to create the neighbourhood program for healthy seniors,” she said. “This is about better services, bringing health care to the seniors where they live.”
The community ambassadors were part of the city’s vaccine engagement teams, which are currently being wound down. The city says the funding for that program ends this Friday.
Bailão said that’s one reason why she’s featuring it as one of the first planks of her election platform. The city has nearly 500 “naturally occurring” seniors communities which were not purpose-built as a retirement or long-term care home, she said. Those communities are home to an estimated 70,000 seniors who need access to health care services.
he program could still help seniors access COVID-19 boosters close to home, but would pivot to dental and pre-diabetes screenings and other preventative medicine. The workers have cultivated valuable relationships within their communities and the city should ensure those are not left by the wayside, she said.
“This is a program that has shown success,” she said. “So, let’s continue to deliver good services for the residents of Toronto, in this case for the seniors of Toronto.”
Future of community ambassadors uncertain
Toronto Public Health said Tuesday that it continues to learn from the community partners that helped it provide the pandemic service. The agency could not immediately say what will happen to the vaccine engagement teams in the months ahead.
“The next phase – and its funding source – have yet to be determined,” Toronto Public Health said in a statement.
Board of health chair Chris Moise, who has endorsed Bailão, said her policy would ensure lessons learned during the pandemic continue to be put into practice. Racialized people face barriers to accessing health care and don’t always trust the system, but community ambassadors helped address those concerns, he said.
“You want to continue to build on that relationship and that trust that we’ve invested so much into time-wise and quite frankly, money,” he said. “It’d be a waste of resources to just have that just disappear overnight.”
Model could be applied more broadly at city hall: Mihevc
Former Toronto board of health chair Joe Mihevc said while he has not backed any candidate in the mayoral race, he praised Bailão’s idea. He saw the work the community ambassadors did firsthand and said the city should find ways to continue that partnership.
Mihevc said it’s important to bring city services to the doors of people who can least afford them.
“This model of community engagement is critical to public health, and frankly, to the broad efforts of city hall,” he said. “Using the energy and the smarts of local communities, be they neighborhood-based, faith-based, or ethnic -based, is very smart.”
The executive director of the National Institute on Ageing said older adults want to age in their own homes but face obstacles like unmet health care needs. That means many often have little choice but to go into long-term care homes, said Alyssa Brierley in a statement.
“Leveraging the high density of older adults living within a building or community by delivering on-site health services and social engagement can help keep them in their own homes for longer,” she said. “In fact, communities across Canada and the U.S. have had great success with this model.”
Meanwhile, Toronto’s mayoral election will move ahead more formally this week. Toronto city council is expected to officially declare the mayor’s seat vacant when it meets Wednesday and Thursday.
That will kick-start the campaign, with candidates able to register on Monday.
Torontonians head to the polls on June 26.
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