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HC Link’s East Regional Gathering: “From Knowledge to Action: Moving Forward on the Social Determinants of Health”

Submitted by Lorna McCue, HC Link

  • Are you concerned about the inequities in our society, especially in relation to our children?
  • Would you like to better understand what the social determinants of health are and how they impact the overall health and wellbeing of everyone?
  • Would you like to see how you can make a make a difference in the lives of those who are struggling in our society?

These are the questions that were posed to participants of HC Link's East Regional Gathering: "From Knowledge to Action: Moving Forward on the Social Determinants of Health", held Tuesday, November 6, 2012 in Renfrew County.

The gathering was initiated by HC Link, as one of four regional gathering undertaken this year.  Other regional gatherings are being planned in the northeast, central east and southwest regions of the province. Through Lyn Smith, Coordinator of the Renfrew County Child Action Poverty Network, HC Link staff connected with and worked with others to plan and event that would focus attention on the social determinants of health.

HCL Kara

 

Sixty-two people gathered to listen to panelists that inspired us with their stories and creative practices, and to engage in dialogue with each other to share, plan, and come up with creative solutions to take back to their community and/or place of work. The gathering was facilitated by Jeff Kohl, of HC Link and was organized around four specific topic areas:

  1. Social Determinants of Health, with Suzanne Schwenger of HC Link and Karen Woods, of the Parent Resource Centre;
  2. Mental Health Promotion, with Greg Lubimiv, Executive Director of the Phoenix Centre for Children & Families and Tom Sidney, Youth Crisis Intervention Specialist for the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board;
  3. Community Food Security/Systems, with Lorna McCue of HC Link, Nancy Wildgoose, Executive Director of The Table Community Food Centre and Shawna Babcock of KidActive;
  4. Housing/Homelessness, with Dave Studham , Executive Director of Renfrew County United Way, Arijana Tomicic, Executive Director of Family & Children's Services, Lina Farias, Psychotherapist, Shelley VanBuskirk, Housing Services Branch, City of Ottawa and Tom Sidney from the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board.

Please click on the speaker name to access their presentation

All speakers shared valuable information and perspectives, as did many of the participants. Karen Wood, assisted by Shawna Babcock, used humour to illustrate various facets of the social determinants of health by re-writing the letters of children's book The Jolly Postman. Greg Lubimiv shared a story of transformational change in the way he viewed what "helping" can mean for clients. Tom Sydney spoke about the importance of creating resiliency within our youth, so they can learn to cope with the difficulties they face in life. Participants were impressed by the story of the transformation of the Perth Food Bank into The Table Community Food Centre, which offers a comprehensive range of community food programs, a peer advocacy office and an 8,000 sq. ft. community garden, with the help of over 100 volunteers.

 

HCL Tom


Throughout the day the room was often buzzing as participants caught up with colleagues and talked about the common issues they are facing. Throughout the day participants suggested potential topics for the conversation café, held after the final panel presentation. During the ensuing conversation, quite a bit of interest was shown in the concept of "radical efficiency", aimed at creating different, better and lower cost public services.

At the end of the day, participants were asked what they saw as being the most important role for HC Link. There were many nods in the crowd for the suggestion that, just as our name indicates, our primary function should be to connect groups working on similar projects, so they don't need to re-invent the wheel and repeat the mistakes of others. From the evaluation forms and the feedback we heard at the event, it seems that this regional gathering was a success, and was seen by participants as an important opportunity to update their knowledge and network with each other.

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Fairness in Policy

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the prestigious Hastings Lecture, named for Toronto's first Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Charles Hastings. The event was moderated by the current Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David McKeown, who introduced Sir Michael Marmot as a "health equity rockstar." The title is a fair for the man who is currently Director of the Institute of Health Equity and a Professor in Epidemiology at University College, London, UK. Sir Marmot is best known for his work on the Whitehall II study, as well as leading the World Health Organization's Commission on the Social Determinants of Health. Like the rest of the 350-person crowd I sat captivated, only breaking to laugh at Sir Marmot's well-delivered jokes – or at the panel's comments on local politics.

PhotobyRyanVarga

Sir Marmot opened with the bold statement that "social injustice is killing on a grand scale." He asserted that a society's success can be judged by the health of its population. Governments, however, tend to focus on only lowest end of the gradient in society, even though health inequality affects all of us. A health system for the poor is a poor health system. Sir Marmot stressed that while inequality exists on a national level, it can also be seen within the same city. In Glasgow, the life expectancy differs by as much as 28 years in different neighbourhoods. In the small town of Lenzie, the average male life expectancy is 82. In the district of Calton, the male life expectancy is only 54 years of age.

To counter this imbalance, Sir Marmot suggested that all ministers operate as ministers of health - as is the practise in Norway, where health performs as a social accountant. Governments should focus on policies which increase the standard of living for all:

  1. Give every child the best start in life.
  2. Enable all children, young people and adults to maximise their capabilities and have control over their lives.
  3. Create fair employment and good work for all. (Marmot shared some disturbing statistics about unemployment and the damaging effects of health – and on economics)
  4. Ensure healthy standard of living for all.
  5. Create and develop healthy and sustainable places and communities.
  6. Strengthen the role and impact of ill health prevention.

Individuals can only be responsible (and be held responsible) when they have the conditions to do so. Fair policies create the necessary conditions. Fairness should sit at the very core of health policies. Ever the evidence-based optimist, Sir Marmot closed his lecture with words of encouragement, "Dream of a world where social justice is taken seriously. Then take the pragmatic steps necessary to achieve it."

Following the inspirational lecture, Sir Marmot was joined in discussion by Dr. Kwame McKenzie and Dr. Charles Pascal. Dr. McKenzie, the director of the Canada Institutes of Health Research Social Aetiology of Mental Illness Training Centre and a senior scientist of Social Equity and Health Research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, used John David Hulchanski's theory of the three Torontos to draw local relevance to Marmots remarks. Dr. Pascal, a professor of Human Development and Applied Psychology at OISE/University of Toronto, bemoaned short term thinking about policy, and advocated for policies with "teeth."

 

Resources:

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