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Shift the Conversation: Community Health & Wellbeing Week

By Sofia Ramirez, Association of Ontario Health Centres

To achieve its vision of the best possible health and wellbeing for everyone, the Association of Ontario Health Centres launched the Shift the Conversation: Community Health and Wellbeing initiative. This is an ongoing conversation and dialogue with people and organizations who share the vision: the best health and wellbeing for everyone.

Often, the way most people talk about health care doesn't capture a big enough picture. The conversation takes too narrow a focus on just treating illness rather that all the other factors that contribute to our wellbeing.

Community Health & Wellbeing Week 2014 #CHWW2014

Between October 5th and October 11th, 111 community-governed primary healthcare organizations across Ontario will take part in the national celebration of Community Health and Wellbeing Week (CHWW) using the theme Shift the Conversation: Community Health & Wellbeing.

Ontario's week of special events is coordinated by the Association of Ontario Health Centres (AOHC), which represents organizations applying a unique and comprehensive approach, delivering medical services in combination with a wide-range of health promotion and community development initiatives.

#CHWW events spotlight the benefits of this comprehensive approach, especially in response to current stresses on health and wellbeing here in Ontario.

Please join us for this celebration. See last week's HC Link News Digest PLUS for a sample of #CHWW2014 Ontario Events and a link to the full listing of events across Ontario.

How can the Canadian Index of Wellbeing improve the quality of life in Ontario?

As part of the Shift the Conversation initiative and with a generous grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF), an agency of the Government of Ontario, the Association of Ontario Health Centres (AOHC) and its member centres partnered with the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW). The CIW is one of the world's leading instruments to measure societal progress.

This project explores the different ways organizations can increase their capacity to address the root causes of illness and shift their work upstream to keep people well. It will support Ontario's Community Health Centres (CHCs), and other community-governed Primary Health Care organizations, to build on previous early CIW work they have conducted over the past two years.

Currently, over 20 of Ontario's Community Health Centres are applying the CIW in a number of different ways. They are using the CIW across the province to improve their capacity to tackle the root causes of illness, for example, as a tool to:

  • Decide what types of services and programs will have the highest impact improving community health and wellbeing.
  • Enhance dialogue and community engagement in the development of action plans to address some of the most important determinants of health in their community.

Measuring What Matters

Earlier this year AOHC also released a new discussion paper called: Measuring What Matters: How the Canadian Index of Wellbeing can improve quality of life in Ontario.

AOHC, together with HC Link, hosted an online discussion about the paper centering on the idea that the CIW can serve as a powerful tool to kick start a more effective community health and wellbeing movement in Ontario. You can view the online discussion here and comment on the paper here.

The CIW Ontario Composite Index Report

The Measuring What Matters paper's release coincided with the April 29 publication of the first CIW Ontario composite index report. This report tracked back to 1994, to provide baseline provincial data with respect to all eight quality of life domains that the CIW tracks.

The CIW Ontario composite report exposed a growing chasm between GDP and the wellbeing. It showed that people living in Ontario are an increasingly time crunched population, experiencing declining economic security, growing rates of long-term unemployment, and a widening gap between the rich and poor.

The CIW's recommendations included expanding access to Community Health Centres. CHCs look at the complete picture and connect the dots between the determinants of health and wellbeing.

Expanding access to Community Health Centres

Our wellbeing is shaped by a wide variety of factors, most of which occur outside of our formal health care system. The places and conditions, within which we live, learn, work, and play are the most important determinants of our health. In turn, our health is related to income inequality and education — it affects our ability to work, our ability to learn, to engage fully with our friends and in our communities. Regrettably, our current health care system was not designed to consider these. It focuses on a "downstream approach" to restore health once it has been lost, instead of an "upstream approach" that prevents illness and disease before they take hold.

Ontario's Community Health Centres (CHCs) have shown that the most effective, efficient, and affordable means of delivering primary health care is through an "upstream approach." CHCs partner with other agencies and with the community to fully integrate a wide range of health promotion and community development services. These services proactively help to overcome barriers to greater wellbeing attributable to health-related social and economic factors like income levels, access to shelter/housing, education, language, and geographic location.

While CHCs have been very successful in meeting the health needs of vulnerable populations and in managing complex chronic disease, many parts of the province do not have access to them. Currently, Ontario's CHCs only serve about 4% of the population.

To benefit the long-term health of people living in Ontario, we must:

  • Adopt a proactive and preventative approach to health care that addresses social and economic factors
  • Expand access to Ontario's Community Health Centres by creating a comprehensive network that enables people in all parts of the province — especially those facing barriers to better health — to access its benefits
  • Provide direct and targeted funding from federal and provincial governments to support a network model of community health centres throughout the province

This year, Community Health & Wellbeing events will highlight the need for healthier public policy and wider focus for health care system.

Please join us at a CHWW event near you: communityhealthandwellbeing.org

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