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woman standing in front of Toronto Western Hospital signPeer workers like Yara improve the health of emergency room patients…and themselves 

“My mental health was deteriorating. I had been arrested a few days before the first COVID-19 lockdown and I was isolated at home, using substances more frequently. What changed for me was the job I got at one of the COVID recovery hotels. I worked there during the summer, then staff asked if I’d be interested in working in the Toronto Western Hospital emergency department because they knew I wanted to become a nurse. I accepted right away.”

Peer workers have become an essential cog in the Toronto Western Hospital emergency room. They build a rapport with patients through shared lived experiences of homelessness, substance use and physical or mental health issues. Their natural empathy helps validate patients’ concerns and makes it easier for hospital staff to provide effective treatment. More than that, peer workers advocate for patients with hospital staff, social workers, community members and partner organizations to ensure wraparound support is available.

“This job has humbled me and I take pride in the work. It has given me a full-time stable job. The routine helps me the most with my mental health and substance use. Since I started, I’ve learned to cope with my emotions without substances or harmful behaviours. Working here allows peers to share our stories and give hope to vulnerable people that need it. We help people see that there’s a way out of this dangerous cycle and we’re proof.

“I am so grateful for everyone who has helped me get to where I am today, I couldn’t have done it without them.”