Three medical workers are holding numbers which form "100"

Staff at Mount Sinai Hospital are celebrating helping more than 100 young people navigate the emergency department as part of a program believed to be one of the first of its kind in Ontario.

The RBC Pathway to Peers program helps young people between 16 and 29 navigate the fast-paced and sometimes intimidating emergency department, providing comfort, care and information to those who need it most.

Mahalia Dixon, Sinai Health’s first Peer Supporter, said her job is to give young people hope by acting as a bridge between them and support teams, as well as connecting them with community-based support services.

“I’ve had my own struggles with mental health and I would have really benefited from having peer worker there,” Dixon said. “To have some hope and guidance on the things you can ask for, or what support is available is so valuable when you’re experiencing crisis.”

Launched in May, the program was designed to support patients presenting with mental health and addictions issues in the emergency department. It was quickly realized that despite accessing the ED for other medical reasons, many were coming in needing support related to mental health and substance use as well.

The RBC Pathway to Peers program was made possible by a $2 million, 10-year commitment from RBC Foundation.

“At RBC, our commitment to helping youth and our communities prosper continues to be a priority,” said Kris Depencier, Regional President, Greater Toronto Region, RBC. “It bring us great pride and comfort to know this program has already helped 100 young adults in only two months. We believe it is our collective responsibility to ensure youth facing mental health issues receive the help they need, when they need it.”

Dixon’s role was developed with the help of staff at the Schwartz/Reisman Emergency Medicine Institute, and through a partnership with Stella’s Place, a community agency that provides peer support to young adults experiencing mental health issues.

Christine Bradshaw, emergency department social worker and project manager of the RBC Pathway to Peers program, said many young people who are accessing the Emergency Department are mistrustful of healthcare systems, often due to histories of trauma.

“Anxiety levels for young people are extremely high right now, especially in the time of COVID-19,” said Bradshaw. “The time the Peer Supporter is able to spend with patients is invaluable.”

The goal is to eventually have trained peer support workers available in the Schwartz/Reisman Emergency Medicine Institute 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week.