TORONTO, August 10, 2016 - On August 1, 2016, CAMH welcomed Dr. Vicky Stergiopoulos in her new role as Physician-in-Chief. As Dr. Stergiopoulos moves into this central position, leading over 380 physicians at CAMH, she discusses her aim to impact system change, the connection between hospital and community, and the importance of improving access to high quality care for people experiencing mental illness and addiction.
Dr. Stergiopoulos served as the Psychiatrist-in-Chief at St. Michael’s Hospital from 2011-2016, leading the development of a number of innovative programs for people who are homeless, and is a clinician scientist at the Centre for Urban Health Solutions, in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael’s Hospital. Her interests focus on the design, implementation and evaluation of interventions to address the needs of people experiencing mental illness and addiction and social disadvantage, including people who are homeless and those with complex health and social needs. She is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, and Co-Director of the Department’s Adult Psychiatry & Health Systems Division.
CAMH Public Affairs recently sat down to interview CAMH’s new Physician-in-Chief in her office.
Dr. Vicky Stergiopoulos
What drew you to CAMH?
What drew me to CAMH is the commitment to outstanding clinical care and research as well as the opportunity to continue to focus on those most in need. With CAMH’s provincial reach, international reputation and specific focus on mental health, there is an opportunity to achieve greater impact for people experiencing mental illness and addiction.
What does that impact look like to you?
First is improving equitable access to high quality mental health and addictions care. Currently, people who need mental health or addiction care face numerous challenges, especially people affected by poverty or other types of social disadvantage. We have a system of care that is fragmented and cannot meaningfully engage those who have complex health and social needs. We need to change this system in ways that are respectful not only to patients’ needs but also to their priorities and preferences. And we need to do so do so in partnership with service users.
Second is addressing the social and economic factors that often surround mental illness and addiction, the so-called social determinants of health. These are the factors that shape the health of individuals and communities and include things like housing, income, education, employment, disability, gender, and race.
That is, health and disease emerge through the interaction of the biological with the social environment, and we need to attend to both. We need to work to improve employment and housing conditions for people with mental illness and addiction, much like we need to continue investing on building our understanding of the brain and advancing neuroscience.
A key theme of your work is improving the continuity of care from hospital to the community. Why is this important?
I don’t see hospital as different from the community; a hospital is part of the community. It’s also important to acknowledge that much of the longer term work needed to maintain wellness and to help people achieve meaningful lives happens outside of a hospital setting.
There are several community organizations that really excel in this area of providing community support to people with mental illness and addiction, but could also benefit from additional expertise and evidence-based interventions that an academic hospital like CAMH can offer.
We need to learn from each other and look for opportunities to co-create services with community partners. I think the provincial Patient First Strategy will expect this of us. Unless we work together, hospitals, primary care and community partners, we won’t help patients achieve the outcomes they deserve. Collaboration is key to creating a society where everyone can thrive.
From your perspective, what do patients want?
I’ve learned through my research that patients want better access to care. They also want care that is respectful, responsive, and addresses their health, mental health and social needs in a comprehensive way. People receiving care also want to be partners in creating that care, at an individual and collective level. Being represented and co-creating services and care plans is fundamental to a responsive and respectful approach.
What do you foresee will be the biggest challenges we face?
It will be important to set clear priorities. There is so much to do, and so many overlapping issues, in our mental health system that has historically been neglected and underfunded. We will also need to maintain our focus and our drive in the context of broader health system changes and advocate effectively for the right kinds of investments in mental health.
Finally, at both the individual practitioner and organizational level we need to balance autonomy and accountability within a framework that advances the value and quality of care and improves patient outcomes and experiences.
What are you most looking forward to?
I’m most looking forward to learning a lot in the next few months! I’m looking forward to meeting with and hearing from patients, our staff and physicians. And I’m looking forward to strengthening CAMH as an academic home for everyone who works for and is served by this organization.