Talking with Mary, a 79-year-old retiree from Niagara Falls, is a delight. Mary was eager to describe how the transportation service she used to get to and from her COVID-19 tests and vaccinations has changed her life.
Mary had never heard of NOHT-ÉSON. She had no idea that the transportation program she had used was created by a new collaboration among various sectors of the health care system—in this case between primary care and home care. But she had endured many service-delivery challenges in recent years, and was thrilled to learn that the health system was being revitalized to create new connections between various parts of the health system to improve health outcomes for everyone in Niagara. Her transportation experience, she discovered, was just one of many service enhancements that would come, via NOHT-ÉSON, as the organization developed.
“The COVID-19 transportation service was a life-saver for me,” Mary enthused during our conversation about her recent experience with the Niagara Falls Community Health Centre (NFCHC). “It protected me from the pandemic and connected me to new friends and my community in ways I did not truly appreciate before.”
After more than 20 years as director of a women’s shelter, Mary and her husband Albert left the “cement lawns” of midtown Toronto and moved to the “lush greenery of Niagara”. They had come to care for Mary’s mother, Gladys, but soon after Gladys died, home maintenance tasks such as snow shovelling, and gutter cleaning became too much to handle. So, Mary and Albert moved into “a nice, comfortable apartment.” Then Albert died. Mary’s health declined. She bounced regularly in and out of hospital for a variety of reasons and she found it increasingly difficult to navigate her daily routines alone.
“When I lived in Toronto, everything I needed was at my fingertips,” Mary reminisces. “But as a senior in Niagara getting services is sometimes like going through a brick wall.”
With each passing day, Mary says, the shrinking of her social circle weighed heavily on her mind and began affecting her moods. And she got tired of getting referred “from pillar to post” for every different service she required. But on one of her last hospital stays, Mary says, something changed. Someone visited her hospital bed to discuss her life challenges and health care needs. “She set me up with a nutritionist, physical therapist, and a life coach—surprisingly helpful at my age—who helped me reach out to a mental health worker. I even got my groceries delivered,” Mary says.
During this time, Mary met Alesha Ashington, a Community Dental Health Outreach Worker at NFCHC. Alesha was helping to coordinate a new service between NFCHC and Community Services of Niagara (CSSN) to transport clients to and from their vaccination appointments. Alesha met Mary, by chance, as one of her first clients in the transportation program.
“Helping people orient themselves, achieve their goals and live fulfilled lives is important to me,” Alesha says. Her 10-year journey in social services honed her passion for helping people. “Deep connections with family, friends and clients can be made through empathy, commitment and willingness to lend a helping hand. I am looking forward to any organizational and system changes, through NOHT ÉSON, that will make the quality of Mary’s experience easily available to everyone who needs it.”