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A year of COVID — a time of learning and caring

From the article in The Catholic Register:

…In the middle of a phone interview about the last year of responding to COVID at St. Michael’s Hospital, Dr. Stephen Hwang’s other phone goes off, Seaton House, Toronto’s largest shelter, on the line.

Fifteen seconds later he’s back on the phone. “It’s too early to really meditate on those questions right now,” he said.

COVID is far from over for Catholic health care — which doesn’t mean that Hwang, a world-renowned researcher in health and homelessness, isn’t thinking about what the novel coronavirus has been teaching him and his colleagues at St. Michael’s. Hwang is launching a new research project to track the path of the disease through Toronto’s shelter system and the city’s growing network of encampments.

“We treat the medical complications of the social issues of our time,” he said.

While social media and newspapers are filled with descriptions of the biology of the virus and technical details about vaccines, as a research scientist Hwang is interested in how the disease plays out in society. Who gets sick, how sick they get and what happens after they get sick has everything to do with poverty, race, social exclusion and the mental health effects of how our economy and institutions sort people into categories.

“We’ve had calls from shelters, shelter operators, asking for help doing screenings during outbreak situations. We’ve had our emergency department flooded with patients who were homeless, awaiting test results and who had no place to go. (St. Michael’s) essentially had to temporarily make part of the emergency department into a shelter. We’ve admitted patients to the hospital with COVID who have either no place to go or home situations that mean that they have to stay (in hospital) much longer than average,” Hwang said. “We’ve done the best we can under the circumstances. It’s part of our purpose.”

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