Let’s get GROWing: Toronto Rehab Bickle Centre’s “Garden Rehab on Wheels” kicks off their 4th growing season!

Hi everyone:

Guest blogger Amanda here, reporting on “GROW: Garden Rehab on Wheels” from Toronto Rehab’s Bickle Centre!  Despite the cool, rainy spring, we have been hard at work getting things ready to GROW for our fourth season!

Planning started in April before all the snow had melted and gardening felt a million years away, when we set up a booth in the lobby to see what our patients, families and staff wanted to see growing this season.  We tried to get a good number of “wish list” items in different categories: legumes, roots, leafs and fruit-bearing, so that we could attempt some basic crop rotation from last year, which helps to grow better crops this year based on how last year’s plants left the soil.  Pretty cool, right?  We also wanted to add some flowers for the natural pest repelling that they do (and their beautification of the garden, of course!).  Shout-out to garden volunteer Mahnoor Muqeem, who then took on the mind-boggling task of putting our garden wish list into a specific planting plan.

We officially kicked off the season in May with colleagues from far and wide.  An awesome group called Nourish Healthcare caught wind of our garden project and asked to come for a visit, with a group of healthcare leaders across the country, as part of their Food For Health Symposium May 15.  (If you haven’t heard of Nourish yet, be sure to check them out–   https://www.nourishhealthcare.ca/  –they are doing amazing work around innovations to make hospital food more sustainable and nutritious).   When they first called me to ask if they could come, I said yes, but…. “Do you realize that our garden will be unplanted and not very pretty looking that time of year?”  And, “do you realize that we are enthusiastic champions of gardening we are not expert urban growers?” (See: https://talkintrashwithuhn.com/2017/09/19/in-respect-of-farmers/ )  Their response was so encouraging: YES, we realize all of the above, but we still think your garden project is pretty cool and want to see for ourselves what you’ve been doing!

So, on May 15, a small bus pulled up to Bickle, and 24 symposium-goers from Haida Gwaii in BC to Montreal and everywhere in between piled off, eager to chat with us about the GROW program and snap some pictures of our wheelchair-accessible garden boxes.  We were also joined by the amazing Ed Rubinstein who chatted about UHN’s environmental and sustainability initiatives.  It was a great afternoon of idea sharing and collaborating (and the weather cooperated just enough to allow us to stay outside for half the session!)

In June we finally felt confident that the weather was good enough to let us get outside and going, so the real hands-on work began!  We replenished the boxes with some of our own home-grown compost (putting those lunch-time apple cores to work) as well as worm castings (which is less glamorously known as worm poop, but regardless works like magic for helping plants grow), and then got planting.  We are looking forward to some GROW favorites like lettuce and zucchini, and are excited for a few new-to-GROW crops like purple sweet peppers and rapini.

The finishing touch was our garden box signs, specially designed with pictures for those who are unable to read English or have aphasia (a communication disorder that can affect one’s ability to comprehend words).  It is always fun to see these being used as conversation starters between patients and their loved ones.

The garden was planted just in time to be able to be enjoyed by patients, families and staff alike as part of Bickle’s annual garden party social, and even got a makeover for the day with some beautiful fresh flowers!

Now, time to wait for those seeds to sprout and seedlings to grow: as we wrap up Spring, we have lots to look forward to in the summer.   I for one am looking forward to enjoying the fruits of our labour, with one of our famous salad potlucks, complete with fresh vegetables from the garden and toppings to share from home.  Cheers!

Lessons from “Road Rules 101”

Last week, we got the opportunity to attend a workshop by Cycle Toronto on the cyclist’s rights and responsibilities, and clarify some procedures under special, but common, scenarios.  Cycle Toronto is a non for-profit and member-supported organization that has as its mission to create “a healthy, safe, cycling-friendly city for all”. You can join by paying an annual membership of $30 which includes benefits such as legal representation in case of collision. Very handy, right? Currently, they have about 3000 members and, together, they work in advocacy, education and encouragement to get you on your bike!

Sharing the road with cyclists is not always very intuitive. Whether you are a new or not so new cyclist, a driver or pedestrian, these lessons will be useful and may even surprise you!

In reality, cyclists act as a combination of vehicles and pedestrians in Toronto which can be confusing on how to act when sharing the road. The first thing to know is that cyclists are considered in the same category as vehicles under the Highway Act of Ontario, therefore, they have the same responsibilities and rights. For example, using the lane when there is not a bike lane marked and using the same hand signals when turning.

(The basics of safe cycling is to indicate what are you going to do before doing it!)

What most people don’t know is that bicycles should have 1 m space away from cars.  This means that cyclists have the right to use a complete lane and as a driver if you want to pass you should pass leaving 1 m space from bikes. Respect that space, it’s safer for everyone! As a cyclist, it is also strongly recommended to be 1 m away from the curb. A lot of cyclists (me included) put their foot on the curb when waiting at a stop sign or traffic light. It is better if you stay in the middle of the bike lane.

Turning right

One of the most common and dangerous situations is when a car wants to turn right when there is a bike lane. In this case, the best thing to do as a cyclist is to go around through the left. If you don’t feel confident or safe merging with the traffic, stop! Wait until the car has turned and continue your path. As a driver, beware of cyclists coming in the bike lane, double check your blind spots and proceed with precaution.

(image credit: http://www.sfbike.org)

Negotiating space with large vehicles

It’s very important to remember that large vehicles have bigger blind spots and the best and safest procedure is to pass them through the left: shoulder check, signal, shoulder check, merge.  Never try to pass them through the right, never!

Stopping in a bike lane

In my short time cycling in Toronto’s streets, the most frequent complaint I have heard is regarding taxis parking in the bike lanes to pick up or drop off passengers. Although not ideal for cyclist, this is legal! Taxis, public transportation vehicles, emergency vehicles, wheelchair vehicles and even delivery vehicles are allowed to park in bike lanes for short periods of time. Hopefully this will change in the future. As for now, let’s understand that they are allowed to do so. If you are a cyclist and encounter this case, you should do a safe lane change to pass on the left or wait to be safe. If you are a driver of any of these vehicles, be mindful and park when you are completely sure there are no cyclists right behind or beside you. Don’t forget you’re also responsible for your passengers!

However, Uber, Lyft and regular cars are not allowed to block the bike lane. Not even to grab a quick coffee! If you find this, let the owner of the car know that this is illegal. They may not know it. Or you can notify the police.

Turning left

As a cyclist you can either do a vehicular left (check for a gap in traffic, give the turn-left hand signal, move to leftmost lane using the complete lane, and turn!), using a box turn left if you have issues merging into traffic (staying in the right while crossing the intersection, stop at the front of the rightmost lane of cross traffic and wait for the light and proceed straight to complete you left turn), or cross the crosswalk as a pedestrian. These three options are completely valid!

If you are a driver and see a green bike box (like the one in the figure below) you are in the obligation to stop behind them. These boxes are made to facilitate the flow and turns of cyclists.

(image credit: westword.com)

One-way traffic

Technically, bikes are obligated to follow the flow and direction of traffic. However, in Toronto it is getting more common to see contra-flow bike lanes, where a bike can travel the other way on a one-way street, especially in residential areas.

(Contra-flow bike lane, image credit: http://www.flickr.com)

As Cycle Toronto remind us: “transportation choices do not define us”, most of us switch from pedestrian, driver or cyclist continuously, therefore be mindful other road users, investigate, follow the rules and act with precaution, so everyone can arrive to their destinations safely.


We are the Champions!

The battle was hard fought, nail-biting, and ended in sweet victory. There was partying in the streets as an entire nation celebrated!

Yes, it’s true! Our own Energy & Environment department won a Local Impact Award at UHN! And a basketball team called the Raptors may have made a little history too ;).

Congratulations to all, and see you at the parade (walking, low-carbon style, natch).

For more on the Local Impact Awards, see the UHN News Article:




Going Paperless: The UHN Cancer Cytogenetics Laboratory Experience

The Cancer Cytogenetics Laboratory (CCL) is part of UHN’s Laboratory Medicine Program at Toronto General Hospital. The CCL supports clinical units at UHN, in Ontario and throughout Canada, analyzing chromosomal changes in patients with cancer. Our work helps pathologists and oncologists make the right diagnosis and provide the right treatment options to patients.

The CCL wanted to transform our work environment by better utilizing digital tools, revising our workflow and reduce paper utilization to help the environment. We began the Paperless Lab Project.

We identified that the paper in the CCL fell in to two categories: paper we created and paper we received. “Created paper” in the lab included worksheets, communications logs, images and analysis sheets that we were printing, putting in folders and storing in file cabinets. We also thought about the “paper we receive” (we see this as in part our responsibility as well) as we request test requisitions, pathology reports and send faxed reports to external institutions.

Phase 1 of our Paperless lab project has targeted “the paper we create” by completely changing our work process, reducing the number of pages we create from an average of 10 pages per case (range 1-25 pages, ~50,000 pages/year) to an average of 1 page (range 1-3, ~5000 pages/year). To accomplish this paper reduction, we exploited functionality within our lab software (CoPath and Metasystems) and used shared network drives. This allowed us to stop printing much of the pre-analytic and analytic paperwork and view it online. We have largely completed and implemented Phase 1!

Phase 2, which will be a longer term project and rely on some external resources, is to look at other facets of our process to try to reduce the paper we receive. For example, by implementing an e-requisition, allowing institutions to send us pathology reports via secure e-mail or e-fax and send reports via e-Health Ontario.

While we won’t be able to go fully paperless for the time being, we have shown how some careful planning and use of existing tools can reduce paper use by 85%. By the end of phase 2 we estimate an approximate savings of 6.5 trees worth of paper EVERY YEAR!

Thanks to all the members of the CCL for your effort in implementing this project!
Yana Ahuzhen, Ana Baptista, Karim Bhaloo, Shawn Brennan (Charge), Erica Dafoe, Ko Gyi, Kate Harris, Cherry Have, Sandra Johnson (Sr), Magda Waszul (Sr), Layali Odeh, Connie Qi, Sejal Patel, Felix Valentino, Leena Patel, Yan Hai, Dr. Adam Smith (Dir), Dr. Barbara Morash, Dr. Peter Sabatini, Shabnam Salehi-Rad. 

Celebrating Bike Month

HAPPY BIKE MONTH! May 27th marked the “bike to work day”, hope it was an enjoyable one! The 30th annual Bike to Work Day Group Commute & Pancake Breakfast in Toronto took place on the 27th. Bike riders met at Yonge and Charles bright and early and biked to Nathan Phillips Square, where they enjoyed breakfast!

On a global scale, approximately 100 million bicycles are made every single year. Bicycles are not only an excellent means of exercise, but they also help in encouraging sustainable transportation. They are emission free, and are one of the 24 ways that we outlined that can help in combating climate change!

UHN Bike Session held at PMCRT in 2017

Here at the UHN, we will be hosting two of our own events celebrating Bike Month as well.


Road Rules 101: Thursday, June 13th, 12 – 1

550 University Ave, Lecture Theatre

Ever had any questions about cyclist’s responsibilities and rights? Want to learn more about your rights as a cyclist? If so, come out to “Road Rules” session on June 13! During this session, you will learn about the rules, responsibilities and being a cyclist. Topics include – laws and fines that apply to both cyclists and drivers, sharing space with pedestrians and other road users, common misconceptions about turns, parking, passing, right of way and more. You will also get the opportunity to ask questions!


Basic Bike Maintenance: Thursday June 20, 12 – 1 pm

Toronto General Hospital, Elizabeth St Entrance

Have any questions concerns about how to maintain your bike? Or simply just want to get more informed? Come by to this session, as expert bike mechanic will provide insight on how to maintain your bike. Topics include – safety checks, assessing air pressure, flat tires, tightening brakes, lubing chains, and ensuring your bike is the right fit. Open to all UHN staff and volunteers.

I wanna walk down to Electric Avenue

20190523_113302-copy2Or drive it in an electric car, natch. We’re having some pretty major electric dreams right now as (drum-roll please)…

We just installed 36 new Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations at UHN!  We have Tesla wall connectors and Universal (J1772 Connector) charging stations so they can be used by all kinds of EVs. Best part? There is no extra cost to charge your car. Just pay for parking, and power up.


Toronto General Hospital: Elizabeth Street Lot:

  • 16 Tesla Vehicle charging stations
  • 8 Universal (J1772 Connector) charging stations for other EVs

Toronto Western Hospital: Leonard Street Lot:

  • 8 Tesla Vehicle charging stations (Tesla Wall Connectors)
  • 4 Universal (J1772 Connector) charging stations for other EVs


Though all charging stations have been manufactured by Tesla, you can distinguish the universal charging stations by the much longer cord and by generic EV signage. These charging stations are split between staff and patient/visitor parking so everyone can benefit.

GenericEV and sign

Generic EV signage denotes the universal charging stations. Note the longer cord.


These signs will help prevent ICEing. ICE=Internal Combustion Engines parking in these spots and blocking EVs from charging there. ICEing wastes a valuable resource.

As we know from Mike’s post, climate change is a health care issue. In Ontario, gas-powered transportation is responsible for the most Green House Gas (GHG) emissions that cause climate change, not to mention, the pollution that causes asthma, lung cancer and other respiratory illness. Yikes! Switching to clean-air transportation heals patients and planet simultaneously, right up our alley.

A top reason I’ve heard people pause before transitioning to electric is range anxiety. This surge in EV charging infrastructure really breaks that down. Staff know they can charge their cars at work (and make their home electric bills even smaller), and visitors know that not only are they brightening a patient’s day, they are powering up while they visit. Let’s not forget the added convenience of not having to go to a glamorous gas station anymore.

A recent look at Plugshare, the google maps of EV charging stations, shows there are lots of charging options now (though the yellow highlighted ones are particularly sweet :).


There is more good news. Not only can you charge up in UHN garages, the Canadian Federal Government will give you $5,000 cash back if you buy a reasonable electric car or other zero-emissions vehicle. Sweet!!! This breaks down the other barrier to EVs, the higher up-front costs. Good to note that EVs pay for themselves sooner than you’d think; no gas and far lower maintenance costs, plus a super peppy and quiet ride. I’ll stop gushing now :).

This was one of my favorite projects to work on yet! It is the culmination of an amazing collaboration between UHN’s FM-PRO team (which houses us in Energy & Environment) and Tesla Motors Canada ULC as part of the Tesla Destination Charging Program. A big thank you to all of the people involved, including Ron Swail, Susan Grove, John Latam, Roula Boultadakis, Tameru Tesfaye, Stewart Dankner, Karl Karvonen, John Soares, Chris Read, Brent Kurliak, Eusra Amin, Joe Lopes, Emily Martins, Todd Milne, Carl Valentine, Perry Ross, Ed Rubinstein, Mike Kurz, Mehdi Motakefpour, Robert Reti, Angela Elia, Liliana Vilela-Andre, Tony Letterio, Daniel Valadares and the JML team.


P.S. Here is the official website for the Government of Canada $5,000 Zero Emissions Vehicle Rebate. Or you can skip straight to the list of eligible vehicles


P.P.S: Misheard song lyrics alert:  Eddy Grant’s song is actually “We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue”. Not walk :). Thank you, helpful readers!   


Patient and Planetary Care – Why Waste Reduction in our Hospitals Matters

By Meghan Kerr and Nicole Green, UofT MD Class of 2021 and current Operation Green volunteers

meghan n nicoleOver the 2018-2019 school year we have had the privilege of actively tackling hospital waste reduction as coordinators of the Operation Green program across the University Health Network. This role has been challenging, rewarding, and elucidating as we coordinated a UHN-wide program, met health care workers committed to sustainable healthcare, and physically lugged boxes and bags of unused medical equipment across hospital floors to pass on to Not Just Tourists for redistribution to areas of need. Continue reading