The sixth project of its kind in Toronto, this Regent Park clinic is especially focused on developmental healthcare
Healthcare just became more accessible for families living in Regent Park—thanks to a pediatric clinic that opened on Tuesday, inside the TDSB’s Nelson Mandela Park Public School. The school-based clinic is an effort to improve access to healthcare for people who may otherwise experience barriers to healthcare in Toronto.
“Language [barriers], social, financial, transportation,” explains Sloane Freeman, the project’s lead physician. “Being inside a school, [this] is already the hub of these families’ communities.”
The project is a partnership between the TDSB and St. Michael’s Hospital. There are six other clinics like it in Toronto, including one at Spruce Court Public School that also operates in conjunction with St. Mike’s.
“We need it for the kids,” says Waegan Alseia, who has four children at Nelson Mandela Park Public School. “If I have to make an appointment with the doctor for my son he won’t go to school, I have to keep him at home, so for me, this is great.”
Since the clinic opened earlier this week patients from many other schools have been flocking to its doors.
The clinic-in-a-school model is brand new for Canada and Ontario, but in the United States there are already 1,900 school-based health centres. Over half are in urban centres.
Developmental Health a Priority
Because of the types of referrals Dr. Freeman and her colleagues received at Spruce Court Public School, the team chose to make this new clinic at Nelson Mandela especially focused on developmental health. For example, this clinic is specifically focused on treating developmental challenges like ADHD and autism.
“When the clinic first started, the idea had been to provide a broad range of services to children in the community using the school-based health model. And then Dr. Green and Dr. Freeman realized that much of the need was developmental. So the services have become a little more tailored to that,” says developmental pediatrician Ripudaman Minhas.
“Some families are a little more apprehensive about going into a larger hospital setting. Children and parents say they do feel more comfortable here. They also say they like the idea of educators and healthcare providers working together.”
Sometimes Minhas and his colleagues embed themselves in classrooms in order to get a better read on a student’s developmental progress.
With a clinic being inside a school there are special cautions at play to ensure patient confidentiality is maintained.
“We made it clear to families right away that while we work with the school, all the information we have is completely confidential, all the information we share we need consent,” says Freeman.
“I let the parents decide whether they want me to share information [with teaching staff],” adds Minhas. “The parents are in the driver’s seat in terms of how much information we share.”
There are two other clinics opening up in Toronto schools soon, one in Parkdale and the other in Scarborough.
Sharon Smith, who attended Nelson Mandela in the 1980s and now has a 6-year-old at the school, says, “It will be easier access for [kids] to seek help for medical issues. It sounds good.”