Lisa Airst standing in her office

#IamMGH – Meet Lisa Airst

#IamMGH tells the stories of our people. Meet Lisa Airst, Peer Support Worker at Michael Garron Hospital’s (MGH) Community Outreach Services (COS).

“For the past four years, I’ve worked at MGH’s COS, which is headquartered in a satellite office near Pape and Danforth Avenues.

I’m a peer support worker for Compass, an interdisciplinary team that is a part of COS and provides support and medication treatment to adults in the community living with mental health challenges. Other members of the team include nurses, community support counsellors, an occupational therapist, a social worker and a psychiatrist.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, our headquarters was a busy place. In addition to providing one-on-one support to clients, we hosted on-site group activities to support their psycho-social well-being, like art programs, movie screenings and walking groups. Part of my role is to help facilitate these groups and ensure clients are benefiting from our programs.

One of the best aspects of my job is witnessing clients laugh spontaneously and enjoy themselves during these planned activities. Throughout COVID, these groups have slowed down. However, we have had a few outings, including an outdoor picnic last summer and a group trip to a vaccine clinic.

Another part of my role – one that I have been more focused on during the pandemic – is helping clients navigate the health and social service systems and advocating for their needs. I am often working with clients and their families on tasks such as applying for Old Age Security, filing taxes and obtaining government-issued ID. If a client is dealing with roadblocks from their landlord or the government, for example, I help advocate for their needs. I love this part of my job, especially when I see real results.

In 2010, I received my Social Service Worker diploma. In addition to applying my educational experience, part of my role as a peer support worker is to share my own lived experience with mental health challenges. In the past, I’ve had to be my own advocate. Because I have first-hand experience navigating the system, I am able to understand our clients’ challenges and better advocate for their needs. There is still stigma that exists about mental health, but for me, sharing purposefully about my personal experience has been worth it because it puts me in a stronger place to help others.

Before working at MGH, I held a similar job at a smaller non-profit, and before that I worked in communications for an advocacy organization. After being with MGH for four years, I can see how well our organization represents the East Toronto community.

During the pandemic, I took on the role of registering clients for their COVID-19 vaccines, and in many cases, accompanying them to a clinic. On one day last year, my colleagues and I took 19 clients to a vaccine clinic run by an East Toronto Health Partners organization. I’ve also visited MGH’s Thorncliffe Park Community Hub clinic, and my colleagues and I felt proud to see so many fellow MGH staff members working on-site. At these clinics, I was able to see firsthand how MGH and our community partners have stepped up during the pandemic."

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