Meet Susan Meikle
An Occupational Therapist by training, Susan Meikle has 45 years of professional experience; currently she is the Executive Director of Toronto North Support Services. One of the services she leads provides “a doorway” of access to 53 provider services for upwards of 7,000 referrals a year.
Each of these referrals represents a person in need of support. TNSS can offer assistance with day to day functioning so that clients can be successful in the community. By far the biggest issue facing many of the clients Ms. Meikle’s agency assists is housing. Although a lot of work has been done on coordinating access, the wait list remains enormous – currently 18,000 individuals are seeking supportive housing – and many have mental health challenges that make sustained housing difficult. However, Meikle does not see that number as intractable, instead, she continues to approach her work with enthusiasm and flexibility despite the enormous social needs represented in that figure.
“It’s an interesting time to be in healthcare!”
Meikle can speak to a breadth of experience earned while working under multiple governments over the years and cites the present as a very interesting time to be in healthcare in Ontario. She is impressed by the willingness of the new Ontario Health Teams to begin the work of breaking down the silos in which healthcare professionals have worked in the past. She explains that our current government is asking hospital health care providers, home health care professionals, those providing services to seniors, family physicians, mental health providers, addictions service providers, rehabilitation and disability advocates and others to plan together. This collaborative approach represents “a whole new world”, according to Ms Meikle, one that presents enormous challenges and opportunities. After participating in a recent planning session that included over 100 general practitioners, she is excited about the possibilities and “wants to believe we can figure this out”.
The challenge of local organization
Under the new Ontario Health Teams organization, the size of a city like Toronto poses a challenge. If everything is to be organized locally, what does that mean for the most populous urban centre in the country? Perhaps it can mean focusing more on a continuum of care and providing clear pathways for accessing care. The multidisciplinary case management approach that has characterized Susan’s work at TNSS is now being embraced province-wide. Susan is proud of the work she and her colleagues are doing in the M-DOT program (established in 2006 and funded by the City of Toronto) which takes a multidisciplinary approach to outreach and care for the most vulnerable people within the homeless population – those living on the streets and in the ravines of the city. M-DOT and other multidisciplinary programs Susan has been involved with offer coordinated services for addictions, mental health and homelessness, and seem poised to lead the way in discussions around best practices for local, client-centred, multidisciplinary care.
Supportive housing and mental health
Ms Meikle recognizes that while there is a link between homelessness and serious mental illness, it’s often less of a straight line than one might think. In fact, she cites past trauma, head injury and addictions as other contributing factors leading to chronic housing instability. It is estimated that homeless individuals struggling with psychotic episodes make up only about 10% of this vulnerable group. However, there is no question that mental illness places an extra burden on those experiencing homelessness and “people cannot be expected to get better without a place to live,” says Meikle.
“We need all kinds of options….”
And for young adults struggling with serious mental illness, a treatment facility like Eli’s Place will provide an excellent option. As Ms Meikle notes: “No one treatment will fit all needs” and that “for some, residential treatment will be the best choice”. She stresses that the transition period for young adults leaving treatment at Eli’s Place is pivotal and that support through this reintegration process is integral to the program’s success. The right intervention early on can prevent more complicated needs later. Ms Meikle has seen the complexity of issues that can lead to chronic homelessness and sees enormous value in supporting young adults to prevent such an outcome.
As Ms Meikle approaches retirement from her professional life, she is pleased to be working with Eli’s Place as an advisor. Ms Meikle brings institutional wisdom gained in a long career of serving the community in Toronto. The passion and commitment of everyone associated with Eli’s Place has made a profound impression on Susan and the feeling is mutual! We are very pleased to have her on board as one of our Professional Advisors.