Heart 2 Heart First Aid & CPR Helps Combat Toronto’s Opioid Crisis
Contributed by Nick Rondinelli. Heart 2 Heart First Aid & CPR Services Inc. has been in operation for 21 years, servicing Downtown Toronto East. We have provided emergency response training to thousands of healthcare providers and support workers in harm reduction, outreach, shelters, and community health centres.
In a national press release published on October 22, 2020, we identified reasons for the spike in opioid overdoses and the all-time high number of deaths in Toronto shelters. This was followed by two letters sent on Oct. 24, 2020 and Nov. 2, 2020 to Mary-Anne Bedard (General Manager), of the Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) and to 6 other senior staff members within the City and shelters.
At a meeting on November 16, 2020, the Board of Health requested the Medical Officer of Health, in consultation with Mary-Anne Bedard, to work with community partners toward urgently expanding overdose prevention response and other harm reduction measures in several hotel shelters in Toronto. Almost $2.6 million in funding has been directed to organizations and programs providing these services.
Although this is a step in the right direction, the City of Toronto must still create and regulate up-to-date standards and guidelines for ALL shelters and workers. Furthermore, unless ALL Toronto shelters receive the extra support from this new funding, we are still left with under-trained staff, lack of PPE, improper breathing barrier equipment, and no AEDs. Instead of creating stronger systems within all shelters, the City is providing band-aid solutions.
What will happen when the money runs out?
Currently the training that is required for shelter and support workers does not cover the most important skills required for opioid overdoses. These skills include pulse check, assisted breathing, bag-valve mask (BVM), 2-Rescuer CPR, Automated External Defibrillation, and proper Naloxone administration.
A social entrepreneurship branch of my company called The Johnston-Brais Initiative is a task force that seeks to provide education, awareness, training, certification and best practices for the unique and challenging circumstances that shelter staff, and harm reduction workers, face each day. This taskforce is made up of industry leaders in First Aid training, EMS professionals, and frontline harm reduction workers.
Our goal is to have one reliable program that becomes accepted as the standard of care for better training, equipment and resources for all Toronto shelters, respites, harm reduction and outreach services. A best practices approach that empowers and develops highly skilled support staff while providing them with immediate access to full PPE and a minimum second trained staff person, per shift.
I am very proud to dedicate and name this social entrepreneurship strategy after two of my late friends. Natalie Brais, who overdosed alone in her apartment in Cabbagetown last year, and my best friend Garth Johnston who died from HIV related causes and experienced homelessness several times in his life.
We are confident that this initiative will provide a platform for offering similar standardized programs across the province and country. It will provide a legacy that I know my friends would be proud of. One that will keep their memories alive in the form of a movement that will save countless lives.