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Ontario Shores employees wear “HOPE” shirts at a staff baseball and ice cream event to support mental health awareness.Provided

Joanna Holley, a community behaviour therapist, recently took the new mental health pharmacology course at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, a micro-credential offered in conjunction with Ontario Tech Talent Inc., a subsidiary of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. It turned out to be a big help.

“The course really reinforced a lot of what I thought I knew,” says Holley. “So this course helps hone my skills.”

Ontario Shores, located in Whitby, is a public hospital providing a range of specialized assessment and treatment services to those living with complex and serious mental illness. But its people come from a variety of disciplines.

“We recognize many of the clinicians coming into the mental health field were not formally trained in an academic institution in mental health skills and competency,” says Sanaz Riahi, vice-president of clinical services, practice and chief nursing executive. “People were just learning on the job and became really dependent on who their predecessors were.”

That’s why Ontario Shores partnered with Ontario Tech Talent. The partnership has crafted a suite of mental health-focused micro-credentials, strategically tailored to address the skills gap found within interprofessional health-care workforces. These micro-credentials encompass a wide spectrum of vital subjects, encompassing mental health assessment, recovery and mental health, therapeutic communication, interpersonal relationships, and the legalities of mental health care.

“We continue to build micro-credentials around sub-specialties,” Riahi says. “All courses are online.”

Originally designed for nursing staff, the program has been expanded to include a wider variety of professionals.

“It’s nursing and allied health professionals such as social workers, occupational and recreational therapists, and workers with various allied health credentials who can attend,” says Riahi. Holley not only took one course, she participated in developing materials for others.

“I’ve also had the privilege of being able to be a subject matter expert for developing the crisis prevention course as well as credentials for elder abuse,” she says.

Holley works extensively with those over 60 years old. “I go into 60 or so nursing homes that we have partnerships with,” Holley says. “My role is to try developing nonpharmacological interventions for individuals with major neurocognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. Often, older adults have serious reactions to medications and pharmaceuticals in general.

“My role is to try and help problematic behaviours such as wandering, vocalizations, physical and verbal expressions of risks such as punching, hitting or yelling,” says Holley. “The course really taught me how to read the medication administration records in a way to come up with strategies for making the medications administered at times of day that target those behavioural episodes.”

Riahi says the hospital is exploring how the students like the courses and if they want to continue. “We are looking at learner satisfaction, but also how many people complete a course,” she says. “Over 80 per cent of registered people actually complete the course.”

The micro-credentials have stirred some excitement among staff. “It’s creating some momentum within the organization where people are sharing and learning together,” says Riahi. When students complete a course they receive an electronic badge.

“It actually has all of the information about the competencies that each learner has received, as well as the date and the details about that competency,” says Riahi. “That’s how they receive accreditation from the university.

“Right now we’re working with the Canadian Nurses Association because they’re an accrediting body,” Riahi adds. “We’re working through getting our micro-credentials accredited but they just are not there yet.”

Holley adds that the micro-credential she took has helped with knowing the benefits of balancing medications when needed. “It’s been a real refresher.”

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