By now millions of people around the globe are getting used to seeing colleagues, friends and loved ones through a screen. For a dedicated group of experts from CAMH and other organizations across the province that are part of ECHO Ontario Mental Health, it’s just another part of the day-to-day workflow.
ECHO Ontario Mental Health is a virtual training and capacity-building model that supports health care providers to deliver high-quality, evidence-based mental health and addictions care in local communities, and it’s been doing so successfully for over five years. To date, over 1200 providers from all regions of Ontario have participated in ECHO Ontario Mental Health.
In response to the pandemic, the team launched ECHO Ontario Coping with COVID in support of connection, resilience and community among health care providers.
The program currently has over 500 health care providers and residents registered, and numbers are steadily growing as more professionals seek support in their practice.
“Against the backdrop of a global crisis, the necessity to keep people connected and informed has never been more crucial. The ECHO model is the perfect mechanism to support this important virtual community,” says Eva Serhal, Director of Virtual Mental Health & Outreach and ECHO Ontario Mental Health at CAMH. “It brings together a virtual community to crowdsource knowledge and curate solutions.”
Core to ECHO is its ability to connect health care providers in rural and remote communities with clinicians and educators from across the province, allowing diverse participants to learn from each other and share their experiences. This is especially important in communities where there are few health care workers, training and collaboration opportunities are limited, and specialty services are scarce. ECHO empowers local clinicians from all parts of Ontario with the knowledge they need to serve patients who have more complex care needs.
Dr. Allison Crawford, Associate Chief, Virtual Mental Health & Outreach is no stranger to this, having worked with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities for years. As Co-Chair of ECHO Ontario Mental Health, she has seen the capabilities of the model, and understands how vital this can be at a time like this.
"The rapid launch of ECHO Coping with COVID was important to support emerging needs, and fortunately we had a strong foundation to do that from,” Dr. Crawford says.
The current needs are being met, however, Dr. Crawford also understands that the landscape is rapidly changing. The uncertainty around the pandemic makes anticipating future needs a critical process.
“We are thinking about the medium- and long-term. It is important to balance the speed of our responses with a continued focus on health equity, so that we address areas with greatest unmet need, and help providers to support themselves and their communities,” added Sanjeev Sockalingam, VP of Education and Co-Chair of ECHO Ontario Mental Health.
ECHO ultimately benefits supports improvement in care to patients throughout Ontario, but its value is most immediately felt by the clinicians who benefit from the learning opportunities it provides. In addition to knowledge exchange and learning, a major benefit of the model is a community of practice that helps to support the personal, mental health and wellness of clinicians.
“The global COVID-19 situation has been an unprecedented challenge for me, both personally and professionally,” says one participant. “The ECHO Coping with COVID Program has proven invaluable for not only building my resiliency, but fostering a sense of community in knowing that so many other disciplines are going through the same things that I am.”
The world has yet to come to terms with the true impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but one thing is clear: programs like ECHO, built to create communities despite geographic divides and physical distancing are revolutionizing the way we interact and collaborate with each other. It’s in this future where ECHO’s resonance will loudly be heard.
Thank you to the ECHO Ontario Mental Health Team at CAMH, who make this a reality everyday: Allison Crawford, Amanda Gambin, Anne Kirvan, Chantalle Clarkin, Cheryl Pereira, Eva Serhal, Jenny Hardy, Jen Carroll, Katie Switzer, Lucy Trojanowski, Maurey Nadarajah, Sanjeev Sockalingam, Sarah MacGrath, Sara Armata, Renisha Iruthayanathan, Thiyake Rajaratnam, Victoria Bond