Terry Pursell, President and CEO, North York General Foundation

COVID-19 Updates: Message from the President – May 7, 2020

Dear Friends,

I have to confess that I have an overwhelming urge to open with, “Hey All You Cool Cats And Kittens”. For those of you who appreciate this reference, you can see that I broke my own standards of guilty viewing pleasure (The Crown, Better Call Saul, or The Last Dance) to something completely different. I guess I just needed to understand the unbelievable popularity of Tiger King, one of Netflix’s most successful releases. It wasn’t really my cup of tea, but it did do one thing — I didn’t think about the pandemic for those 41-minute episodes. I gave myself permission to take a break from the “new normal” that I am still struggling to define. It can be a bit mentally and emotionally exhausting coping in this new existence, even when you are fortunate enough, like the NYGH Foundation team, to be working and supporting an incredible hospital.

This is the right moment to recognize Mental Health Week and the way clinicians have adapted to support your community and our health care workers. I am grateful to Dr. David Koczerginski, Chief and Medical Director of our Mental Health Program, who took the time to answer my questions.

Dr. David Koczerginski, Chief of Psychiatry and Medical Director of Mental Health

Dr. David Koczerginski

These are challenging times with the constant barrage of COVID coverage both in the media and in our own social circles. It is hard to pull away without feeling like you might miss something… any advice on how to manage this?

There is a definite overload of information from traditional media outlets, not to mention social media, as well as friends and colleagues. Adding to the challenge is that much of the information and advice is constantly changing or conflicting between sources. This can create confusion, intensify anxiety and interfere with capacity to engage in more pleasurable, relaxing and meaningful activities. My best advice is to place limits on time spent listening to COVID coverage and be selective on preferred sources of information. If ever in doubt, speak with health care providers you know and trust.

How have you and your team changed the way you practice mental health care during this pandemic?

The pandemic has provoked very dramatic and rapid changes in the delivery of Mental Health and Addictions (MH&A) care. The most obvious example has been an accelerated transition to virtual care. There has been large and increasing numbers of video consultations and follow-up appointments, and of course many telephone contacts as well. Our challenge and opportunity going forward will be to maintain and expand virtual care clinics with a focus on improving access and timeliness of services while also continuing to provide necessary in-person treatment as appropriate for individuals and families.

We are all worried about the stress levels of health care workers. Can you share how the hospital is supporting them during these unprecedented circumstances?

These truly are unprecedented times for health care workers, and I’d like to acknowledge the tremendous local community recognition and support of our hospital staff. There has been an intensive focus on education and rapid system change to ensure the very best evidence-based care for our community and our patients. Working in a health care environment, there is understandable worry regarding protecting one’s self and one’s family. NYGH has prioritized the development of psychosocial support and wellness initiatives for our staff. This includes the provision of a group-based virtual support option run by our own Dr. Tziporah Cohen. We provide 24-hour confidential counselling and a barrier-free rapid access to MH&A assessment and treatment by our clinicians and psychiatrists.

What services can the community turn to for their mental health needs?

There are many resources, ranging from self-help strategies, digital supports and direct contact crisis counselling services. Many of these are well summarized in an excellent website developed by Dr. Jerome Perera, one of our NYGH psychiatrists, and linked here. https://mentalhealthcovid19.ca. Our North York Toronto Health Partners have also developed an on-demand MH&A hotline to provide support for individuals who may have specific anxieties around COVID-19. Anyone can call 416-640-1934 to receive immediate support and linkage with services as appropriate. We of course always encourage connection with your trusted family physician. If you are ever in a state of crisis or feeling unsafe, please go to the Emergency Department 24/7.

What advice can you offer during social distancing and isolation, especially when we see other provinces and countries “opening up”?

Continue to maintain physical distance as per recommendations from our local infection prevention and control specialists. The understandable challenge is in monitoring and attending to emotional health while maintaining distance. Please see the five suggestions I made in a recent article in the NYGH Post, https://nygh.on.ca/newsroom/looking-after-your-mental-health-during-pandemic. I believe that these unusually stressful times provide opportunity for both personal and community growth.

For an update on how North York General is addressing children and youth mental health during this crisis, here is a link to an update on Phillips House and our inpatient unit.

As always, if you are interested in learning more about COVID-19-related issues, please go to the hospital’s website at nygh.on.ca/covid-19-updates and remember to access our self-assessment tool at covid19toronto.ca to help guide you if you or a family member are feeling unwell.

With Mother’s Day almost upon us, perhaps you would consider making a tribute gift in your mother’s honour to support mental health care and wellness for our staff and our community at NYGHFoundation.ca/MothersDay.

This weekend, I will appreciate and cherish however my children are able to celebrate – a virtual breakfast in bed is fine with me!

My best to you and yours, and #staysafe,

Terry Pursell
Terry Pursell
President & CEO

P.S. If you or someone you know is considering supporting North York General, please go to NYGHtacklescovid19.com, which highlights our Emergency Response Fund to address current and post-pandemic preparedness.