In his years as a healthcare worker at Montreal’s Royal Victoria Hospital, Hasnain Mirza has witnessed the effects of loneliness.

“They’re lonely, especially during the holiday season,” Mirza said of his patients in an interview with CTV News Channel on Monday.

“Specifically, I had two patients side-by-side in the intensive care unit. One had family there, one did not… And the patient that didn’t have any family was crying while hearing the people on the other side.”

In December 2014, Mirza finally decided to do something about it, launching a business that offers cuddles for $90 an hour within the island of Montreal.

“There’s lots of loneliness in our big city,” Mirza says.

Technology, he adds, is also largely to blame. While we’re more connected to the world at large than ever before, we’re also increasingly cut off from face-to-face contact.

The effects of a cuddling session are palpable, Mirza says.

“I have a client who’s a regular. He’s 60 years of age, retired, and he has high levels of social anxiety.”

Prior to signing up for cuddles, Mirza says this client rarely spoke to his neighbours or left his apartment. Now, Mirza says, he’s getting out and communicating.

“The change is phenomenal.”

Several part-time cuddlers work alongside Mirza. Sexual touching is strictly forbidden.

“People need affection,” Mirza says, his voice soothing and calm. “Contact is becoming more and more rare.”