Doc­tors can now pre­scribe a visit to the ROM

Pi­lot pro­gram of­fer­ing artis­tic and so­cial pre­scrip­tions for cer­tain health is­sues THES­TAR. COM/ GTA THES­TAR. COM

StarMetro Toronto - - TORONTO - Ja­son Miller STAFF RE­PORTER

When Nafisa Nezam Omar was di­ag­nosed with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, she got an un­usual pre­scrip­tion: Tai Chi.

Sev­eral months af­ter en­rolling in the tra­di­tional style of mar­tial arts, Omar, who lost her hus­band to a heart at­tack as well as a brother to gun­fire and a sis­ter to rocket shelling in Kabul, says she’s “fi­nally be­ing able to en­joy my life.”

“I’m now vol­un­teer­ing and do­ing well,” she said.

The Rex­dale Com­mu­nity Health Cen­tre, where her doc­tor is based, is among On­tario com­mu­nity health cen­tres tak­ing part in a pi­lot pro­gram that of­fers so­cial and artis­tic reme­dies — in­clud­ing choir classes, fish­ing les­sons, knit­ting and a visit to the Royal On­tario Mu­seum — as an al­ter­na­tive treat­ment for cer­tain health is­sues such as anx­i­ety and lone­li­ness.

The ROM an­nounced Thurs­day it would be of­fer­ing 5,000 free passes, each valid for four peo­ple, as part of the project.

“One of the things they’re try­ing to pro­mote is a sense of be­long­ing and em­pow­er­ing peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate,” said Kate Mul­li­gan, di­rec­tor of pol­icy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the Al­liance for Health­ier Com­mu­ni­ties, which rep­re­sents 107 com­mu­nity- gov­erned pri­mary health care or­ga­ni­za­tions and is lead­ing the one-year pro­gram.

“It might be that the physi­cian or nurse prac­ti­tioner sees that you’ve been com­ing in 10 times and amed­i­cal so­lu­tion is not read­ily avail­able for what’s both­er­ing you.”

Among the most com­mon com­plaints — gob­bling up physi­cian time and cost OHIP — is lone­li­ness, Mul­li­gan said.

She said through the pro­gram pa­tients who meet the cri­te­ria are re­ferred to a link worker, who walks them through a menu of treat­ment al­ter­na­tives. The full menu of pro­grams are free of charge to par­tic­i­pants.

“The Rex­dale pro­gram has fo­cused on Rom-type things and get­ting peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate in the com­mu­nity,” Mul­li­gan said.

The con­cept of “so­cial pre­scrip­tions” — where health prac­ti­tion­ers pre­scribe artis­tic and so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties as al­ter­na­tives to med­i­ca­tion for peo­ple with men­tal health dif­fi­cul­ties — started in the U.K., and has caught on in Mon­treal.

The On­tario pro­gram was launched this sum­mer with a $600,000 grant from the provin­cial health min­istry, tar­get­ing health needs of peo­ple who aren’t well-served by the main­stream health sys­tem, such as peo­ple who are racial­ized, LGBTQ, those fac­ing em­ploy­ment bar­ri­ers and Indige­nous peo­ple, Mul­li­gan said.

AN­DREW FRAN­CIS WAL­LACE/TORONTO STAR

Nafisa Nezam Omar was pre­scribed an un­con­ven­tional rem­edy to tackle her de­pres­sion. She's now part of an un­ortho­dox pi­lot pro­gram aimed at eas­ing pres­sures on the health care sys­tem.

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