Advancing urban community health: The Scarborough Hospital meets the needs of Tamil moms-to-be

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Located in the most culturally diverse community in the world, The Scarborough Hospital (TSH) partnered with community organizations to create a unique gestational diabetes education program for Tamil-speaking women – one of the more than 25 distinct ethnic groups TSH serves.

After identifying a gap between the way gestational diabetes education was traditionally provided and the incidence of gestational diabetes among the hospital’s Tamil-speaking population, TSH received a research grant from Health Canada to better understand how to present information and services in a meaningful way for this particular group. The community researchers, all Tamil women, found a high degree of anxiety among this population related to a lack of gestational diabetes information. They also found that Tamil women were very eager to have the opportunity to receive health information and participate in support groups – in Tamil.

Glenna Raymond, TSH Deputy CEO and COO, said reaching out to work with community groups like the Tamil Eelam Society Canadian Diabetes Association provides TSH with an important opportunity to offer integrated health-care solutions in a relevant and effective manner.

“Because of our seven distinct locations throughout this large community and high patient volumes presenting a wide variety of issues – we’re known for deep community connections, hands-on leadership, and results-driven health and wellness advocacy,” Raymond said.

TSH’s Gestational Diabetes Program includes Tamil-speaking support groups and a wide distribution of pamphlets and education sessions to ensure health information is being properly delivered to the Tamil community.

According to the World Health Organization, women of Southeast Asian ancestry have a high incidence of gestational diabetes and it increases when people move from their country of birth to Canada. In 2001, 34 per cent of The Scarborough Hospital’s gestational diabetes patients were born in Sri Lanka, 14 per cent in Pakistan, and seven per cent in India.

A little over a year after the study, the project has been used as a model for approaching other challenges related to trends in urban community health, integrating substantive lessons from the Tamil Gestational Diabetes program into a positive framework for continued betterment of the broader urban health and wellness system.

“It’s not enough to say this is the way we’ve always done things,” said Raymond. “Our population is rapidly evolving and as a consequence, we must continually review our practices to revitalize and strengthen the way we promote and improve the health of the community we serve.”

Gestational diabetes is high blood sugar that occurs during pregnancy. Mothers with this condition are at an increased risk of having a large baby, which can result in a more difficult birth. There is also a higher chance of these women developing diabetes in future pregnancies and later in life.

The initiative was developed with the support of the Self Help Resource Centre, the Canadian Diabetes Association and the Diabetes Education Community Network of East Toronto.

The Scarborough Hospital (TSH) is a multi-site urban community hospital that delivers innovative, high quality patient care, advocates for our community’s health and wellness issues, and is a leader in research, teaching and learning. TSH is a regional treatment centre for Dialysis and is renowned for its sexual assault and domestic violence care center and mental health programs. Affiliated with the University of Toronto, TSH is also a referral centre for vascular surgery, pacemakers and corneal implants. We are the heart of urban health.