February 2007


Suicidal, Bill went to the hospital. He had moved to Sarnia, Ontario, from out East, leaving all his friends and family. He had thought his new job here would be a good opportunity. Instead, his life was falling apart. A long anticipated visit from his girlfriend had ended in a break-up. There was no one to listen;! no one to care, and in his despair, suicide seemed the only option. He thought the hospital would help. But instead, the doctors discharged him.

Who would help him through this rough time?

Frightened and alone, he called Sarnia's Distress Centre.

Donna Martin, program coordinator, took the call. She quickly realized that part of Bill’s difficulty was his isolation. Then she told him about Tel-Check.

Tel-Check provides daily phone calls to seniors or persons with a disability who live alone. It is a free service, and it runs 365 days a year. Calls range from thirty second medication reminders or a simple check that someone is ok, to longer conversations when a client needs to chat or is experiencing a crisis. Most of all, Tel-Check’s volunteers offer a daily human voice to people who might otherwise fall through the cracks.

Bill was amazed when Donna explained all this to him. “You mean people would call me every day? And! they would let me talk? For free?” Far from friends and family, Bil l didn’t need to be convinced. That evening, Bill got his first Tel-Check call.

Tel-Check was added to the Sarnia Distress Centre 20 years ago to help seniors living alone in rural settings. The volunteers of the Distress Centre run both programs, quickly switching hats to prioritize calls. Today the service has been extended to include people with various medical, mental, or developmental challenges who have one thing in common – a sense of isolation. Today, Tel-Check makes approximately 20,000 calls a year, serving 95 clients within the Sarnia area.

Besides providing a listening ear, volunteers are also trained to do a daily risk assessment. An unexpected event can send a person with a mental illness into a tail spin. Talking with clients on a daily basis, Tel-Check volunteers can monitor if a client is losing his ability to cope and recommend additional help.

Donna tells of one particular client, who struggled with dual diagnosis and ad! dictions. A significant loss was making it even more difficult for him to cope. When his anger over his loss began to spill over into talk of suicide and even homicide, Tel-Check was able to intervene. With the client’s permission, a crisis meeting was held to give him a better safety net.

Without Tel-Check, would it have been too late?

Other Tel-Check clients deal with significant medical challenges, like heart attack or stroke victims. Daily calls from Tel-Check ensure that they can continue to live independently, while still giving them a measure of safety. One woman who didn’t respond to Tel-Check’s call was found unconscious in her home, in a diabetic coma. She recovered in hospital, thanks to Tel-Check.

Tel-Check is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and also partly by United Way. Donna sees this as money well spent. Each dollar helps an individual who is alone and vulnerable, whether it is a senior facing ser! ious health issues, a person with a mental illness or developmental di sability, or someone like Bill, facing a frightening set-back in an unfamiliar city. Tel-Check offers each of them emotional support and safety, often preventing the need for greater interventions.

For Bill, suicide seemed like the only option. Then he found a listening ear in Tel-Check, and strength to take some new steps. He moved to Saskatchewan to pursue a new job.

Within a short time of his move, Bill was back on the phone to Sarnia’s Tel-Check. But this time, it was an optimistic Bill on the phone. He had just called to say thank you.

For when he was at his lowest point, Tel-Check was there.

Of interest, Community Torchlight, Wellington-Dufferin Distress Centre has also managed a TELECHECK program in Dufferin County since 2004. Over 45 clients are served by that program. The start-up, originally intended for seniors, was funded by a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The program is expanding to include service for o! ther vulnerable populations and is currently looking to secure long term stable funding.

Many of our member centres are currently exploring the possibility of providing this call out assurance service in their service areas. The need is significant. The fit with Distress Centres' existing core competencies and expertise is perfect. Information sharing and discussions will take place at the next Educational Forum in London in April.

Jeanette Duncan
From conversations with Donna Martin
Sarnia Distress Centre and Tel-Check



Emergencies. They happen any where, in any place and at any time. Emergencies can threaten public safety, the environment and property, the economy, critical infrastructure such as transportation and teleco! mmunications, and public health.

In Ontario, we have had ou r share of emergencies. From the blackout in summer 2003, to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak earlier that same year; and from yearly forest fires in Northern Ontario to early spring flooding, we know first hand that emergencies are unpredictable and can change dramatically in scope and impact.

We also know that emergencies can have devastating affects on the psychological and social well-being of society. Whether an adult or a child, a senior citizen or a new comer to Canada, emergencies can be overwhelming, stressful (physically and emotionally) and frightening – especially for those directly affected or involved.

Building community resilience is a key ingredient to effective emergency management and planning in Ontario. It is also an important component of emergency response activities.

The Emergency Management Unit (EMU) of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care is the provincial lead for health emergency management a! nd planning in Ontario. We, along with other provincial ministries and Emergency Management Ontario, recognize the important role community resilience can play not only in planning but for response efforts. For our efforts, the EMU has undertaken a number of steps and initiatives to build and strengthen community resilience across the province, as well as support the psychological and social needs of the public during times of emergencies.

One of the first steps the EMU took was in early 2005, when we established a formal partnership with the Ontario Psychological Association to provide emergency emotional support to victims and/or family and friends of victims in an emergency situation. When the service is activated, support is available through a toll-free helpline, in 25 languages, and referral services can be provided for on-going counseling and treatment. This partnership was an important part of Ontario’s response efforts to evacuation of Lebanese Can! adians last summer.

Ontario had a major role to play to sup port the evacuation of Lebanese Canadians during the time of conflict. Not only was the province responsible for receiving a large number of evacuees, but we were also called upon to ensure health care and emergency health services were available, as well as ensuring that food, shelter, financial aid and employment supports were in place for those in need. We activated the emotional support hotline which helped many returnees, family and friends during a very difficult and emotional time.

We have also been very busy with developing emergency plans that support and incorporate community resilience. For example, pandemic planning in the addictions and mental health communities. This is an area where we are breaking new ground and working with community service organizations to develop a guide that will support effective pandemic planning in a very diverse sector. The guide will address key planning issues such as the diversity of clients and their needs, as w! ell as diversity of services and the settings in which they are offered. Through a broad working group, we anticipate the guide will be made publicly available in summer 2007.

Because people can become anxious during the pre-disaster/emergency phase (concerns about the what if?); or panicked during an emergency (what to do? where to go? who can help?), we know that education and awareness on personal preparedness can influence to how people respond during an emergency. Education and awareness can have a positive effect on strengthening community resilience.

To cultivate education and awareness, the EMU is exploring ways to work with and encourage local organizations to build community resilience tactics in to their services and programs they offer everyday.

In December 2006, the EMU hosted an information session with non-government and social service agencies that provide telephone help and support to the public. The purpose of this ! meeting was to share current resilience building activities and initia tives in communities across Ontario, as well as to discuss new and emerging trends, psychological and social needs in both rural and urban settings and to identify the availability of community response networks.

Representatives from organizations such as Distress Centres Ontario and Distress Centres of Toronto participated in the session. We know how closely linked your organizations are to the community and how vital our relationship will be during times of emergencies. For this reason, we will continue discussions with your organization and others to help facilitate the sharing of relevant preparedness resources and information for use in the community.

Other collaborative efforts include a partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). In the coming weeks the EMU, together with PHAC, is hosting a one-day workshop to examine existing health care needs during emergencies and to explore tools and protocols that reduce client risk.

The day's activities will focus on mental health and rehabilitation services for children and adults; as well as independent living services and supports for persons with developmental and physical disabilities.

We are pleased that Distress Centres Ontario will be participating in this workshop. It is our goal that the information, ideas and experiences shared will help develop a practical tool(s) that can be shared with other provinces and territories as a resource for emergency planning. Together we can further Ontario's planning momentum and build community resilience across the province and the health sector.

The EMU’s effort to build community resilience also includes developing educational programs for children. Currently, we are supporting the Canadian Red Cross in their work to develop an educational resource to help prepare children for health emergencies.

We are looking at including six components in this resource, includ! ing how bacteria and viruses are spread; the importance of proper hand hygiene; cough and sneeze etiquette; when/why stay home when you are sick, beating the seasonal flu; and pandemic preparedness.

The resource materials would take an innovative approach and would include activities that can be done in a school-setting and for families to do together in the home.

Educating children on personal preparedness supports community planning, helps children and the parents understand that disasters can happen, how important planning ahead can be for their safety and the community. When people - and children - feel prepared, they cope better.

This is just a snapshot of the work we are undertaking to support community resilience, build personal preparedness and plan for the psychological and social needs of the communities in which we live, work and play. The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care continues to work closely with other provincial ministries and Emergency Management Ontario, as well as other governments, ! health care organizations and community groups to not only help reach the goal of community resilience, but to support collaborative and inclusive working relationships.

Our efforts, and that of our provincial colleagues and stakeholders, will build throughout 2007 and we hope to continue the relationship we have developed with organizations such as Distress Centres Ontario. For more information about the work we do, and the resources we have available online, please visit our web site at:
www.health.gov.on.ca/pandemic or www.health.gov.on.ca/emergency.

Jennifer Veenboer, Sr. Policy and Program Consultant,
Emergency Management Unit, Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care



On January30th, fifteen of our member centres came together fo! r a Centre meeting at Metro Hall in Downtown Toronto. The discussions were vibrant and very informative. They pointed to the need for additional meetings to discuss the variety of issues that face DC's today.

The topics discussed included Interagency Protocols for out-of-area callers; Volunteer Recruitment - is the challenge increasing?; Tele Check - Assurance Calls for Vulnerable Populations.

Detailed notes from the meeting are available to all member centres.


Keep your calendars open for the ..........


Date changed from March 1 / 2, 2007 TO

APRIL 26 AND 27, 2007

Lamplighter Inn
London, Ontario

The forum is of interest to staff and volunteers of all Member Centres and interested friends of the Distress Centre Movement.

The topics are varied including looking at how Distress Centres and Cris! is Lines can play a larger part in disaster and pandemic planning, volunteer recruitment and retention challenges, how to help our callers with concurrent disorders, first episode psychosis, suicide ideation among the elderly and more.

We have a wonderful room rate at the Lamplighter of $99.00 + tax per night, so this will be a very affordable forum for all.



This year's focus is personal preparedness. On-line links for resources to support this week and stakeholder activities include www.health.gov.on.ca/emergency, www.epweek.ca and www.getprepared.ca

" If you judge people, you have no time to love them " MOTHER TERESA
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