Improving Health Access, Right Around The Corner 

The background is a photo of The Corner's exterior, coloured in blue hues. Staff members Sharron Wright and Mark Redka stand in front.
St. James Town Health Access Team staff, Nurse Practitioner Sharron Wright (left) and Intake Worker Mark Redka (right), in front of The Corner’s entrance.

Picture this: Your family has recently arrived in Canada, settling in the Toronto neighborhood of St. James Town. You’re having trouble getting a work permit. Your kids are due for their annual check-ups. Your mom wants medical advice for her diabetes. Affording food is a daily struggle. And on top of all that, everyone needs their COVID-19 booster shots. 

You talk to a neighbour about these snowballing worries and they tell you about The St. James Town Community Corner. After a phone call with a staff member, you learn that your family can get support for these challenges, all in one place.  

This is a common experience at 200 Wellesley St. E., where The Corner operates its simple “single intake” approach to providing health and social services, with much of the community hub’s on-site primary care arranged by Sherbourne Health.  

How The Corner Works 

Located on the ground floor of a public housing high-rise, people can use The Corner’s offices, with free access to room bookings, wifi, and printers.

Members of The Corner's Late-Night Pop-Up COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic stand in front of a promotional poster, as well as a tray of snacks for guests.

At The Corner, people can visit its on-site nurse practitioner or join their full-scope programming, which encompasses vital supports for employment and settlement, alongside recreational activities that keep all ages engaged. 

One of those programs is Health Access St. James Town (HASJT), which is co-led  by Sherbourne Health and The Neighbourhood Organization. Through it, The Corner’s intake workers are connected with a network of 15 community partners, health and social service providers, and housing groups. By acting as the access point to these organizations, intake workers can easily introduce new users to their external resources. This hub model means people need only connect with a single worker to access multiple streams of support.

 

The Corner Makes Urban Health Convenient, With Sherbourne’s Help

Sherbourne Health’s involvement as a co-lead and anchor partner runs deep, notes Nalini Pandalangat, Vice-President, Community Health and Capacity Building at Sherbourne Health. After a six-alarm fire at 200 Wellesley St. E. in 2010, some of the displaced residents were slipping through the cracks of Toronto’s social service system. Following this, Sherbourne Health participated in community consultations that inspired the collaborative nature of The Corner. 

Sherbourne’s connection with The Corner has remained strong over the years. This involvement  includes co-leading and involvement with several services, including:  

Primary care: As part of HASJT, people can receive primary care from The Corner’s Nurse Practitioner, as well as support from a family physician, a community dietitian, and Sherbourne’s Diabetes Education program. The Corner has a clinic that is currently accepting new clients who live locally and don’t have a family doctor.

Emotional wellbeing:  A mental health counselor from Sherbourne provides onsite counseling supports one day a week at The Corner. Sherbourne also assists with case management. 

Meal Programming: Motivated by our Food for Good initiative, Sherbourne assists The Corner’s St. James Town Catering Collective in delivering healthy meals to seniors and food insecure people.

Community Events: Sherbourne and The Corner frequently collaborate on programming, such as vaccine clinics and health-related workshops. A stand-out event they hold is an annual consultation with residents and service providers. 

The clinic, led by nurse practitioner Sharron Wright, benefits greatly by being under The Corner’s network. In a way, there is “no wrong door” for the clinic’s clients, as they can get access through the clinic to anything offered by The Corner and vice versa.   

“Someone from The Catering Collective may ask me, ‘Do you have any clients who require a meal?’ I can reach out to my patients and then send off a list of names,” says Sharron.  “The next day my patients can come here, get food support and get vaccinated in the same facility. The day after, they can bring their kid to play on the piano. That’s unique. It’s just a wealth of experience.” 

Making health care easy to access is important, particularly in St James Town. It’s Canada’s most densely populated neighbourhood, with many residents who are newcomers, low-income earners, and people with complex service needs. Relying on one place removes much of the hassle and guesswork involved with navigating unfamiliar services. This also streamlines the usual process for agency referrals, as clients can get lost in the shuffle when they do multiple intakes with multiple institutions and be overlooked for follow-up appointments.    

Another benefit of services at the Corner is to help combat hesitancy and mistrust in the health care system. In addition to appointments that take place in her office at The Corner, Sharron is often found out in the community. She might start her week at a rooming house helping residents with chronic conditions, then end it at a community centre for an event supporting Black wellness. In both instances, people will tell Sharron that her presence made them decide to seek primary care. 

Nayanthi Wijesuriya, Manager of Community Health at Sherbourne Health, works out of The Corner and oversees HASJT. She hears similar stories where The Corner overcomes medical hesitancy, directly and indirectly.  

“People would say ‘I don’t want to see a doctor,’ but after Sharron takes their blood pressure, they’ll see how high it is and decide to schedule an annual check-up,” says Nayanthi. “And then those people tell their neighbours about that. This is how community knowledge happens.”  

Sharron believes The Corner’s understanding of the social determinants of health would benefit other urban areas.  

“I can see the impact on a micro level already and the differences it’s making in people’s lives, Sharron says. “Having The Corner’s concept in different neighbourhoods would make a world of difference.” 

The St. James Town Community Corner is located at 200 Wellesley St. E. As of last August, people can also drop by The Corner’s second location at 240 Wellesley St. E., the City of Toronto’s first Share and Reuse Hub, to borrow equipment or repair broken appliances. 

To make an appointment with the Health Access St. James Town intake team, call 416-964-6657 ext. 401 or email intake@stjamestown.org