Putting staff wellness in focus

By Darryl Mathers

Providing exemplary care to people living with mental illness is a responsibility everyone at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences (Ontario Shores) takes great pride.

The compassion and empathy shown by all staff, regardless of role, is part of what makes Ontario Shores a place where those impacted by mental illness want to receive care and treatment.


While its commitment to the communities it serves is undeniable, behind the scenes the specialty mental health hospital is taking action to maintain and even enhance the mental and physical health of its employees.

“People who are paid to look after others need to have attention given to their own strength, resiliency and wellness in order to do a good job providing care,” says Karim Mamdani, President and CEO of Ontario Shores.

Located in Whitby, Ont., Ontario Shores provides staff with supports for their own mental well-being. Its new two-year psychotherapy pilot program offers free confidential psychotherapy services, either as an internet-based system for employees to seek digital cognitive behavioural therapy, or as extensive psychotherapy through an in-person therapist on-site or at a clinic.

“We’ve talked it up and tried to alert people to it,” Mamdani says. “Often people won’t admit they need help. So the way we’re doing it is not to suggest that any one person needs to get help, but that everyone can benefit from a little TLC. Reaching out is not something the organization sees as a problem or weakness. It’s what we expect.”

The hospital has also offered resiliency training and mindfulness sessions in addition to offering a range of wellness benefits such as walking clubs, fitness classes and an on-site gym.

To organize it all for staff, Kaelen O’Rahilly, a recruiter in Human Resources with a background in workplace wellness, helped develop a Wheel of Well-being with nine domains, including physical, social, spiritual and financial health. People can access information on the programs anytime through the hospital’s intranet.

“One of my roles is research on whether people are interested in the initiatives we’re running,” says O’Rahilly. “So I visit the units on a monthly basis and pop in at their team huddles, asking what they like so far and what they’d like to see at the hospital. We want to make sure staff are enjoying what we offer and being heard.”

Ontario Shores also promotes the various aspects of wellness in its design of hospital-specific initiatives. This year, the hospital turned part of its focus toward nutrition with the launch of its Eat Well, Live Well program.  Each day, the hospital’s Nutrition and Food Services team created fresh and affordable healthy options such as salads, snacks, sandwiches, smoothies or entrees. They were labelled as part of Eat Well, Live Well so that people can quickly identify items that are part of the program. To start it off, senior management gifted each employee with a card for 10 free meals.

Darryl Mathers works in communications at Ontario Shores for Mental Health Sciences.