Patient Family Partner
I came to an appointment at a Unity Health clinic once and there was a big Pride flag hanging on the wall. I knew it meant I was going to be treated safely. As great as that was, we can’t just hang a flag and leave it there. People in the community who are older remember the 80 and 90s and that era. The trauma of it trickles down. We need to be out there in the community showing support for the community visibly. I came out in my 30s. I went to a community counselling centre, it’s called David Kelly Services now, and they helped me get a therapist for free. It made opening up to my family and friends so much easier.
I’m an abuse survivor and I deal with the effects of trauma. When I came out it brought back a lot of those challenging memories. I searched for a support group for men, but when I went to those groups there was a lot of homophobia.
I wanted to repay the community for the help I’d been shown when I was coming out, so I went back to that community centre and I said I wanted to start a pilot program for gay men who’ve experienced abuse. I did fundraisers with the help of the Toronto leather community, drag community, local businesses and bars, and we raised the money we needed. I had friends who would be there with no questions asked.
Not everyone has money to give to causes they care about, but what I could give was my time, my ideas and my experiences.
I think men have a hard time coming to terms with their trauma. I remember going to look for books about men and trauma when I first started dealing with flashbacks, and I could only find a couple of books on the subject. Things have changed a lot, but there still needs to be more support given.
I have a background in politics. I grew up in a small town in Northern Ontario, and when I was 18 I was elected to municipal council. A mentor of mine told me that the most important thing in a community or country is the people. If people aren’t healthy and don’t feel safe they can’t live to their full potential.
In my community people helped each other. You would give someone butter if they needed it and maybe a few weeks later they’d give you eggs. Hospitals are communities, too.
I’ve been a patient at St. Michael’s Hospital for decades. In addition to my history of trauma and mental illness I also have hearing loss. The clinics here have given me so much, and I became a Patient Family Partner to give back.
I asked a question in a Town Hall meeting about closed captioning on Zoom for people who have hearing loss. Now close captioning is used in meetings and in virtual appointments for patients. It’s really just about being considerate. You always have to be thinking about the next step, things like training for staff, asking screening questions before appointments – things that make the patient feel comfortable and included without them having to ask.
Along with my Patient Family Partner colleagues I have advocated for the Emergency Department to integrate mental health care into their trauma response. When you come to the department you’re in a crisis and it really effects your mental health – it needs to be taken into account.
Moving forward, I want us to think more about the people who don’t have the money and insurance to access trauma-informed care. Therapy with someone who specializes in trauma isn’t cheap. What about the people who are on fixed incomes? What about the people who don’t have good insurance? They have just as much right to heal as anyone else.
I like to think of PFP work as troubleshooting before the trouble comes. We’re thinking about the impact that an action or a word might have before it happens so patients can have the safest, most comfortable experience possible. We all have different experiences with the health care system that we bring to the table, and while we can’t predict everything that may happen we are at least doing the best we can.
I can’t go back and change the past, but I can use my story to shape the future. That’s why I share it.
Glenn Fraser is a Patient Family Partner at Unity Health Toronto.
As told to Olivia Lavery. Photos by Eduardo Lima. This interview has been edited and condensed.