This article originally appeared in a special report from The Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.
In mid-March, emergency public health measures swept across the country, limiting in-person interactions in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
At The Royal, the pandemic has prompted the acceleration of several initiatives, particularly telemedicine. Never before has the ability to connect virtually been more important. Virtual care provides clinicians with the opportunity and capability to connect with our clients across the community while limiting the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Almost immediately, a team of clinical leaders, recreation therapists and administration staff in collaboration with the Royal Ottawa Foundation began working to raise money to secure connected devices – tablets and smartphones – in a bid to support the inpatients at The Royal and those in the community. Ensuring patients stay connected to loved ones and expert mental health care during the crisis was a top priority.
Among the hundreds of donors who heeded the fundraising call, a national leader stepped in as well.
When looking for support for this vulnerable population, TELUS was a natural partner. The technology company moved quickly to expand its national TELUS Mobility for Good initiative to keep vulnerable Canadians connected to their loved ones. It’s a partnership that ensures the devices end up in the hands of those who need them most.
With visitor restrictions in place across the Royal’s inpatient units – and with only a single landline per unit to share between as many as 30 patients – the opportunity to connect with the outside world became limited. “Imagine being hospitalized without any ability to speak to friends or family,” said Dr. Nicola Wright, a psychologist at The Royal. Her patients are often challenged by schizophrenia spectrum disorder and psychosis.
“At a time when patients were feeling most distressed due to COVID-19, they were also cut off from their closest, most precious contacts,” she added, noting the situation caused by the pandemic “was heartbreaking.”
Of the 125 phones and 135 data plans received by The Royal through TELUS, half are being used by clients in the hospital. The remainder were allocated for use by outpatients who had no access to a phone or data, making connection to their psychiatrists, mental health team members and cognitive behavioural therapy group sessions all but impossible.
For one of Dr. Wright’s patients who lives alone, the declaration of the pandemic left her entirely cut off from group-based care because she didn’t have access to a phone with data. Through the Mobility for Good program, she is now able to attend three virtual group sessions per week and is maintaining her mental wellness.
TELUS has been a partner of The Royal for more than 16 years; they are a key sponsor for a variety of Royal Ottawa Foundation events as well and recently launched the Health for Good initiative with the creation of the TELUS Mobile Health Clinics. TELUS truly is an incredible partner and supporter of mental health.