Care Without Walls: The Royal’s community mental health program recognized for impact bringing mental health care to the community

As the world grappled with the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Royal’s Community Mental Health Program (CMHP) faced a difficult decision. How do we stay connected to our clients while the world shuts down? The answer was simple: We do anything and everything to maintain continuity of care and respond to clients’ needs, while maintaining our staff’s safety. That commitment sparked a series of collaborative, innovative, and client-centred solutions that ensured individuals receiving mental health care in their homes, in shelters, in group homes, at hospitals, and in other settings did not get lost in a system frozen by COVID-19.  

The University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine recently recognized CMHP for their efforts during the pandemic. The COVID-19 Recognition Award celebrates the selfless and innovative efforts of the Homes for Special Care Team, Assertive Community Treatment Teams representing Catherine, Bank and Persons Dually Diagnosed, the Flexible Assertive Community Treatment Team for Persons Dually Diagnosed, the Step Down from ACT Team and Psychiatric Outreach Team. These client-facing teams never abandoned the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, as demand increased, so too did their impact. No matter what obstacles they faced, they charged forward, delivering lifelines to individuals facing mental illness. 

“We are so proud of CMHP and join the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine in celebrating their impact during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Joanne Bezzubetz, president and chief executive officer of The Royal. “The innovation, the flexibility, and unwavering commitment to supporting and caring for our clients is our vision of a ‘hospital without walls’ in action.”  

In partnership with community agencies and other health partners, CMHP provides a wealth of services directly to clients to support their care at every stage of the recovery continuum. Their focus on accessibility and meeting clients where they are not only provides essential mental health care but also inspires hope for those who can get lost in a complex care system. 

“The innovation, the flexibility, and unwavering commitment to supporting and caring for our clients is our vision of a ‘hospital without walls’ in action.” – Joanne Bezzubetz, president and chief executive officer of The RoyalWhile reflecting on the CMHP’s team response to COVID-19, Kate Baker, director of patient care services, shared that the team already had expertise in providing virtual care and so, as pandemic-related closures began to affect care delivery, they were quickly able to identify how best to maintain continuity for clients through virtual mental health care services. 

 “It is an honour to receive the Certificate of Recognition from the University of Ottawa for our COVID-19 response in the communities we serve. The Community Mental Health Program under The Royal employs over 120 staff. They do an excellent job supporting our clients, families, and community partners, and have continued to do so in a pandemic, finding creative and innovative ways to support access, hope, and new possibilities in care delivery,” Baker said.  

Dr. Paula Walsh-Bergin, a psychiatrist with the CMHP nominated the teams for this award. “The teams hit the ground running, demonstrating flexibility and resilience in caring for our vulnerable clients, who are often isolated in the community. The teams showed great imagination, resourcefulness, and determination in making sure we continued to provide care. Providing cell phones to isolated clients, meeting in the cold outside with full PPE, supporting and collaborating with our community partners to make sure our folks were safe and mental/medical support did not fail,” Dr. Walsh-Bergin said. 

As the world reflects on one year of living in a pandemic, it is important to pause and recognize the individuals who never waivered in their commitment to care. The Royal’s CMHP program is a testament to the notion that challenge inspires courage and innovation; and today, and every day, they deserve to be honoured for their dedication to our community’s most vulnerable citizens.