Toronto's University Health Network to create first senior emergency care centre with historic $52M donation

Toronto Western Hospital will get a new emergency medicine centre dedicated to senior care thanks to a historic $52 million donation by the John and Myrna Daniels Foundation. (Paul Smith/CBC - image credit)
Toronto Western Hospital will get a new emergency medicine centre dedicated to senior care thanks to a historic $52 million donation by the John and Myrna Daniels Foundation. (Paul Smith/CBC - image credit)

Canada's largest research hospital will create the country's first emergency care centre for seniors thanks to a $52 million dollar donation that the organization says is the largest gift toward emergency medicine in Canadian history.

The University Health Network announced Saturday the centre will be the first of its kind globally, decked out with a comprehensive research and education program, staff specialized in geriatric care, and a physical space designed to work around the unique needs seniors have.

These are all things that can help health-care workers provide the type of care that they've always wanted to give, but haven't always been able to due to resource and system constraints, says UHN medical director of emergency departments Dr. Sam Sabbah.

"Our older adults, they've contributed so much throughout their lifetime," said Sabbah. "We really owe it to them to give them the best of the best of care."

The donation comes at a crucial time. Canada has an aging population that in the coming years will not only hit the country's labour force, but place extra strain on the health-care system.

Despite the looming threat, Sabbah said the centre would have been "virtually impossible" to get off the ground solely through the public sphere in the "current fiscal environment." Right now, hospitals are focused on maintaining the services they can, he says.

"It's no secret that our hospital systems and our acute care system and our long-term care system is at and above capacity," said Sabbah.

"Certainly there is funding available through the government ... but to take it to the next level, it would have been impossible to do without the generous support of our donors."

The donation was given to the network by the John and Myrna Daniels Foundation, a charity that focuses widely on health care, education, food security and the relief of poverty. The foundation has previously donated $20 million to UHN for facility upgrades and research.

Something to look forward to

For caregivers like Santa Cuda, the centre has been a long time coming.

She's been taking her 82-year-old mother to UHN for over two decades and has watched her mother slowly acquire geriatric services on top of her cardiac issues. She's grateful for a new centre, which she says will help future patients get more support finding and treating their ailments.

"It's going to improve the experience of seniors in the coming into emergency, reduce revisits and better health outcomes in the end," said Cuda, a patient partner with UHN, who works with UHN staff to help improve health care.

"That's what the doctors want, the nurses, families and I think all Ontarians want."

The new centre, which will be named after Myrna Daniels, will be housed at Toronto Western Hospital, the network says, along with Canada's largest brain, arthritis and vision programs. It's currently scheduled to open in 2025.

"We're building something that we can be proud of for our loved ones, but that we will utilize as well when the time comes," said Sabbah.