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South East Toronto Organization (SETo) 

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“The vision of SETo is to be the catalyst in the innovative and collaborative promotion of health and wellness…by connecting community needs, service provision, and public health policy outcomes with community engagement and a strong commitment to health equity.”(Anthony Mohamed, SETo Director)

SETo (South East Toronto Organization) is a coalition of 15 health and social service agencies working in formal and informal partnership, within the boundaries of Yonge, Bloor-Danforth, Coxwell, and Lake Ontario. The main goal is to coordinate services and affect public policy concerning accessibility and appropriate care for marginalised and vulnerable populations. Every 2 months since 1989 executive leadership at each of the agencies listed below come together to discuss problems, shared interests, and strategy for addressing the systemic problems faced by marginalized persons. 

Casey House

South Riverdale CHC

Central Neighbourhood House

St. Michael’s Hospital

Centre for Research on Inner City Health

Street Health

Fred Victor Centre

The Wellesley Institute

Mid-Toronto Community Services

Toronto Public Health

Mount Sinai Hospital

Women’s College Hospital

Regent Park CHC

St. Michael’s Hospital

Sherbourne CHC


SETo came into being in 1989 in response to the plan to close the Wellesley Hospital. From the beginning it took the form of a “high level focus group”, in which leaders among major service providing agencies jointly advocate for improved services, find ways of better coordinating services, and develop projects to address key areas of need. This work is taking place in an area of Toronto that has very high and complex service needs. The area covered by SETo has a high ethnic diversity, a large immigrant population, high rates of mortality and high school drop outs, and the second lowest-income postal code in Canada.

“SETo strongly believes that it is important to bring together people who know issues and barriers, with people who can help to implement desired changes.” (Lorraine Purdon, Founding Director) 

What is remarkable and unique about SETo is that it has, for over 20 years, been a forum through which senior leadership of an often disparate and in some ways competing set of organizations effectively collaborate. They maintain close consultation with their communities and overcome the many bureaucratic and systemic barriers that commonly come up in criticisms about our ‘siloed’ and “non client-centred” services.  Beginning with its playing a key role in keeping the Wellesley hospital open, the group moved on to a range of projects and advocacy efforts that have had a major impact for the marginalized persons of their jurisdiction.

These include:

  • Toronto Harm Reduction Task Force: A network of hundreds of individuals and organisations dedicated to reducing drug-related harm in the Toronto area. The Task Force presents workshops throughout the year on a variety of topics of interest to front line professionals and the general public. It also creates a series of harm reduction tools, such as safe drug kits, overdose prevention pamphlets, and video documentaries about stigmatisation related to drug use. 
  • Young Parents No Fixed Address: The lack of adequate prenatal care and shelter for pregnant street youth poses a risk to their health and the health of their unborn child. Young Parents No Fixed Address is a coalition of agencies and supported by SETo to help coordinate services for homeless pregnant women and youth who are parents.

In addition to lobbying through the above-described initiatives, SETo actively supports research efforts with intent of demonstrating how service is connected to evidence. Collaborative projects include:

  • “The health effects of reductions in welfare payments and hospital closures on immigrant populations in southeast Toronto: A ten-year time trend analysis:” (Joint Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement (CERIS), Toronto, 1998-2001.) This research highlighted adverse impacts of the 1995 welfare cuts on immigrant populations.
  • “Changes in the demographic composition and health status of immigrant populations in Toronto’s inner city: time trend analysis and innovative mapping:” (Joint Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement (CERIS), Toronto, 1999-2000.) This research highlighted adverse impacts of the 1996 increased user fees for seniors’ prescriptions on immigrant populations.  

“SETo collaboration tends to be behind the scenes … you hear something and it connects to your individual clients in community. You feed back into the next meeting in more depth, and it grows from there. We have to be looking at multiple layers … we have to look at more than one level. It’s a certain kind of leadership that takes a certain kind of work.”(Todd Ross, Director)

There are a number of factors that would seem to have played a key role in the effectiveness and longevity of SETo. Along with the obvious emphasis upon collaboration, members cite the importance of having consistency in both leadership and vision. This is an “efficient, results-oriented and nimble” group that enables political and social capital to “respond to real issues in a practical way”. With a strong social justice framework, SETo emphasizes the importance of relationships in enacting change – not only through projects but also by enabling one ED to readily make a phone call to an ED in another organization to look to joint solutions. Furthermore, SETo is a setting in which there is an emphasis on consensus and equity within the group – with the leadership of large organizations having no more say than those of smaller organizations.

In sum, it would seem that SETo is the product of both the shared vision and cohesion of a highly functional group and the social capital, and emphasis upon action and results that attend experienced senior leaders in healthcare.


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