Sherbourne Stories

May 25, 2017

Sherbourne Infirmary celebrates 10 years, rolls out service expansion for trans clients recovering from transition-related surgery

Jessie Fitzpatrick was admitted to the Infirmary Program for a week-long stay to recover from transition-related surgery.

“If I want to be with people like myself, I’ll come to Sherbourne,” says Jessie Fitzpatrick.

This is the kind of diverse, inclusive atmosphere that Sherbourne Health Centre’s Infirmary Program aims to offer clients.

Jessie, a self-identified trans woman, was admitted to the Infirmary at the end of January for recovery after undergoing transition-related surgery (TRS).

“There’s really no comparison,” says Jessie. “No one offers what Sherbourne offers, especially with the Infirmary. It’s like comparing an apple to a nut – an oak tree to a bird! There’s nothing available like it. That’s why this place is so special.”

The only one of its kind in Canada, the Infirmary provides 24/7 care for individuals who are homeless, under-housed or socially isolated and in need of a safe place to recuperate from an illness, injury, acute medical condition or surgery. The program welcomes diversity in all forms, including social, cultural and gender identities, to ensure a safe and welcoming space.

“The Infirmary is really like a step-down unit for individuals who are leaving hospital,” says Melanie Oda, Director of Sherbourne’s Infirmary Program. “It’s focused on caring for those who have a medical condition or situation where, if they had the means to be in the community or at home, they would be able to manage their care in an environment with the proper supports.”

This spring marks 10 years of service for the Infirmary. More recently, the program opened a space devoted to transition-related care in 2016 as part of Sherbourne’s trans health expansion initiative. This was funded by the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network as part of a broader Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care reform to open up access to surgeries for trans individuals. This expansion includes four additional beds to support individuals with TRS post-operative care, bringing the program’s total capacity to 14 beds.

When the program doesn’t have trans client referrals, the Infirmary uses the beds for other clients.

“We’ve been able to increase our capacity to provide focused services for particular clients,” says Melanie. “We wanted to create a service delivery model that really supports the complex needs of our clients, which includes trans people in Ontario, so they can have a successful recovery in the community.”

This was of benefit to Jessie, who was discharged from hospital in January only 10 days after having surgery in Montreal, and stayed at the Infirmary for one week to recover. For Jessie, the Infirmary filled a need in her journey to transition.

“Across Canada there’s no dedicated service for people recovering from this type of surgery. If it wasn’t for the Infirmary, I wouldn’t have had the proper rehab to make a healthy recovery because it would’ve cost me a fortune,” says Jessie, who explains that having a private in-home nurse can run up to around $300 for a half-day (or 10 hours) of care.

Jessie was offered a three-week stay at the Infirmary, as the bulk of critical healing from TRS can take several weeks, but she opted to stay one week so she could return to her family.

“I wanted to stay because it was so worry-free, but I missed my son and my mom,” she says. “If I didn’t have a son and my 79-year old mom living on her own, I definitely would’ve stayed longer.”

Jessie received round-the-clock care for the duration of her stay. Taking the sensitivities of her healing into consideration, which included regular post-op dilation, she received a private room with a fully functioning shower. She was also administered stool softeners and pain medication in the middle of the night, and served three meals per day, with light snacks in between.

“The care was excellent – 10 out of 10. It felt like a five-star hotel,” says Jessie.

Along with medical care, Jessie also received bedside moral support from Infirmary staff.

“I was pretty rough. I’d been through a lot and was in such bad shape. My body kept reacting in ways I wasn’t used to, and the staff were there for me,” shares Jessie. “When I was at my worst, I wanted to quit and stop dilating – but the nurses and care team encouraged me to keep on going. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Jessie is one of the many diverse clients that come through the Infirmary’s doors. The core of the program serves homeless and under-housed people who have varied complex care needs. This includes older individuals with deteriorating health, those with mental health and substance use issues and chronic conditions such as HIV and diabetes, and those undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.

These distinct needs are addressed by the program’s interdisciplinary team, which consists of a nurse practitioner, registered nurses, community health workers, a case manager, intake and admissions nurse and a unit coordinator, who work together to care for clients and connect them to community resources.

“We’re really focused on people who require this type of space, this type of care,” says Melanie. “The team focuses not only on the medical aspect, but on other social determinants of health that actually impact people’s health and well-being.”

For Jessie, when it comes to her health and well-being, the positive impact of the Infirmary remains clear: “My goal was to go to the Infirmary and be helped, and that’s exactly what happened. Everyone who works there, they love what they do. It shows in the way they care for and talk to clients – there’s a tremendous amount of respect. This place is endless for what you want. It met so much more than what I had expected, and I’m so thankful.”

Sherbourne will host an Open House event on May 31st to celebrate the Infirmary’s 10-year milestone. To be more relevant and distinct about what the program offers to its clients, a new program name and visual identity will also be unveiled.