Low Barrier, Accessible and Supportive Service
As part of Toronto Community Hep C Program (TCHCP), for over ten years South Riverdale CHC has offered comprehensive, group-based Hep C treatment and support to people who use substances and/or have difficulty accessing mainstream health care.
The last year and a half has seen important developments for the program. Beginning in August, 2019, all of our non-clinical programming has been delivered by people with lived experience of HCV and who are former clients of the program. In September, as one of three models of care across Canada, the TCHCP was featured in a short documentary produced by Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange and the International Network on Hepatitis in Substance Users. In 2020, we published a paper on our successful peer outreach testing project; this described the delivery by 11 current/former clients of rapid Hep C antibody tests to nearly 400 people who were at risk of Hep C. We also published a study which looked at health care administration data and found a reduction in emergency department visits among women, and a decrease across all Hep C program participants in emergency department visits for soft tissue infections.
Like many other SRCHC programs and services, the Hep C program had to quickly adapt when COVID-19 hit. During the pandemic, staff has continued to offer Hep C care and support at the Health Centre. We’ve also continued to engage clients and our patient advisory board to find out what people’s needs are at this time, to continue the Hep C conversation and to figure out how we can be more responsive to current needs. Many Hep C staff have been redeployed to support other essential services (such as supervised consumption) or to new COVID-19 efforts including screening and lobby support, outbreak management for shelters/respites, and mobile COVID-19 testing in the community. Hep C staff have also been supporting the development of a safer supply program, conducting Indigenous-focused outreach and supporting homeless encampments. For many people who use drugs and live in poverty, Hep C is not the biggest priority at the moment. The overdose crisis and need for safe shelter/housing are more pressing for survival. By addressing the social determinants of health, TCHCP has always aimed to meet client needs more broadly than just Hep C.
Even as other Hep C programs have had to decrease services, the TCHCP has remained committed to providing accessible, supportive and low barrier service during COVID, with ongoing treatment initiation and support over the continuum of care. We have explored new partnerships and ways of delivering care that are responsive to the changing needs of clients. And as the pandemic continues, we will continue to meet clients where they are at. We offer what is needed most while we build relationships and partnerships. This will become the foundation for addressing the elimination of Hep C in the future.