As if doctors and other health care professionals aren’t busy enough these days, some still find a way to volunteer time and expertise to help out in the community.
One such person is Dr. Kayla Dadgar whose day job is as a resident in internal medicine at the Ottawa Hospital, working both Civic and General Campuses. Somehow Kayla, along with about 10 other medical residents – two or three each week – volunteer their time at Out of the Cold (OOTC) on Saturday evenings, providing assessments and more to any OOTC clients who want medical attention.
Out of the Cold (Centre 120) was initiated by Knox Presbyterian Church in 1995 to welcome disadvantaged members of the community into the church and to serve them a hot meal each Saturday night during the colder months. The program has seen some dramatic changes this year as a result of the pandemic, but guests can still come by and pick up a hot take-out meal from the church.
The idea of attaching a medical option to OOTC surfaced in 2015 when then-OOTC coordinator Michel Lariviere was contacted by the University of Ottawa Residency Doctors about volunteering to help OOTC clients on site. After several planning discussions the program received the go ahead that same year and doctors have been coming in most Saturdays since, meeting with clients downstairs at Knox. And there’s plenty of work to do.
Raised in Brampton, Dr. Kayla Dadgar took her medical training at McMaster University in Hamilton. She was aware of OOTC even before she started her residency in Ottawa a couple of years ago, as it was mentioned when she was interviewing for her position here.
"I've always been interested in advocacy work. In the past, I've worked with refugees as they try to navigate the Canadian health care system, so volunteering at OOTC is another way I try to contribute,” she says. “Really, it’s a great chance to get to know members of the community which I think is important in my profession.”
Now, the medical services the doctors provide at OOTC aren’t the same as those one might receive in an emergency room, for example…but it’s a service that’s immediately accessible to OOTC clients - people who might not seek out any medical attention at all without this program.
Of course, like the meals provided through OOTC, the pandemic has affected the medical side as well. Says Kayla: “We have a one-way path into and out of the building and then have a large room where patients can be spread out at various tables. We wear gowns, gloves, visors and masks and we sanitize everything used (chairs, desks, equipment) before we see another patient.
“At OOTC, we’re right there, it’s convenient for the clients, many of whom have a tough time getting to a doctor or clinic. We often don’t think of the challenges some people face…transportation is one…not having a phone is another. Who thinks about that today? Well, it’s hard to speak to a doctor or any other service provider when you have no phone,” says Kayla.
For legal reasons, Kayla and her peers aren’t able to write prescriptions at the OOTC clinic.
“To provide prescriptions, we’d have to be able to follow-up and obviously we can’t do that, so we provide advice and services that are feasible and the clients appreciate that.”
Doctors at OOTC can provide medical advice, counselling, some over-the-counter medications, and they are available simply to chat with someone who needs to talk. Kayla says some of the more common ailments they encounter include wounds, skin conditions, respiratory concerns and blood pressure issues.
“I think working at Knox through OOTC offers something important to the clients and to those of us who volunteer. As doctors, we gain a better appreciation for the social concerns and challenges people in the downtown community face on a daily basis. And if we can help in a small way, that’s great.”
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