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Young physician who brings palliative care to the homeless honoured by Governor General

Congratulations to our friend and partner Dr. Naheed Dosani, who is working with the team to create Journey Home Hospice, a new end of life care facility for Toronto’s homeless community.

Dr. Naheed Dosani, a palliative care physician at Inner City Health Associates, was awarded the Governor General of Canada’s Meritorious Service Cross (Civil Division) at a ceremony in Toronto on February 20. The prestigious national honour recognizes the 33-year-old physician’s commitment to providing care to those with life-limiting illness who face barriers to compassionate care because of homelessness, addiction, poverty or insecure housing.

As the only child of refugees forced to flee Uganda’s atrocities in 1972, Dosani learned about inequity and social justice issues first hand. He grew up in a less-privileged Toronto neighbourhood where crime & gang violence were common. These experiences drove Dosani to choose a career where he could contribute towards social justice. Initially, he contemplated a career in law or journalism before deciding he could make the biggest difference as a physician.

After travelling extensively during his medical training on electives to Cambodia and Kenya, Dosani came to realize the important issues of equity in access to health and healthcare around the world and especially in his home city of Toronto, which further led him to ask, ‘what’s a life worth?’

“In medical school, I realized we’re not just care providers; we have the opportunity to be social change agents,” he said.

During his medical residency, while on a palliative care rotation at a homeless shelter, Dosani met Terry, a man in his early thirties who was suffering excruciating pain related to head and neck cancer. Terry was homeless, had addiction and mental health issues, and was nearing the end of his life. Dosani worked gently and patiently with Terry, earning his trust to establish a pain management plan that would ease his suffering.

Sadly, Terry’s pain and stigmatization overwhelmed him. He told his roommate he no longer wanted to live, then took a fatal overdose of alcohol and drugs, and died in the street. Terry’s death proved to be a turning point for Dosani.

“Life was waiting to give me that moment with Terry, to actually realize what a life is worth,” said Dosani.

The young physician felt the path before him had become clear. During his final year of residency in palliative care at the University of Toronto, Dosani approached the Inner City Health Associates (ICHA) with an idea: to expand ICHA’s primary and mental health programs for the homeless and those with unreliable housing to include palliative care needs for those with life-limiting illness.

PEACH delivers community-based hospice palliative care to society’s most vulnerable individuals regardless of their housing status or factors such as poverty or substance use.

The PEACH team includes Dosani, a nurse practitioner, a registered nurse and recently, a second palliative care physician. Since 2014, the team has managed care for nearly 200 individuals in downtown Toronto, bringing compassionate medical care, dignity and peace at the end of their lives.

The PEACH team has inspired cities across the continent, including Edmonton, Calgary, Victoria and Seattle to develop similar programs. The value that PEACH brings to individuals fuels Dosani to continue to advocate for ongoing innovation and equitable care.

“From the most superficial level, to the deepest roots in society, we can have an impact through the lens of health and wellbeing. To what degree we make that change is up to each one of us,” said Dosani.

Dr. Dosani of Inner City Health Associates joins the Saint Elizabeth Foundation and Hospice Toronto at a press announcement with the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care in December 2017.


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