BCACHC Board Member Profile

Special Feature

Irene Clarence

Executive Director, Mid-Main CHC (2005 – 2023)

Director, BCACHC board (2017 to 2023)

We are so honoured to pen this special tribute to Irene Clarence. Irene has dedicated the past 2 decades to strengthening the CHC delivery model in Mid-Main CHC and building the foundation for the advocacy of CHC principles and models in BC.

We were so inspired after our recent chat with Irene, who is retiring from her role at Mid-Main CHC. We are happy to share a bit of BCACHC’s history and Irene’s roles in Mid-Main, the CHC provincial and federal movements.  

Canadian Association of Community Health Centres (CACHC) and BC Association of Community Health Centres (CHC)

In 2006, Irene flew to Toronto to join a small and mighty group of 6 provincial representatives of the Canadian Alliance of CHC Associations (CACHCA). This alliance, which started in the late 90s was attempting to strengthen the CHC movement across Canada. With such a small group and such a big task, everyone had an active role. Irene became the Vice Chair at this first meeting and in later years did several terms as the Co-Chair of CACHC (Canadian Association of CHCs) the current iteration of this movement.

The funding for this fledgling alliance in 2006 was from a combination of small project grants (i.e., from the Arthritis Association) as well as membership dues and donations from CHCs across Canada. Scott Wolfe was hired as a contactor by CACHCA and then later permanently as the CACHC Executive Director to help the alliance reach out and engage in dialogues with organizations and communities across Canada, to learn, share and “solve problems”. Irene described the experience as “inspiring”. 

Encouraged by a Mid-Main board director to build off earlier work done provincially; Irene soon became the go-to person to provide information on the CHC model to interested parties in BC. This was done initially through the maintenance of a website to connect a network of people and small CHCs across the province with a shared vision.  Later, this was replaced by hosting a page on Mid-Main’s website for what was to be the first step to a BC provincial organization.

CACHC supported Mid-Main to host the first Western Canada Summit in 2014 to bring together current and emerging CHCs in BC and reps from CHCs in Washington, Idaho and Oregon and managed to garner media attention. Between 2014-2016 several smaller meetings were hosted to bring together like-minded people from across the province to work towards a strong CHC organization.

The tireless work of a few “founding” members of BCACHC led to the birth of our BC provincial association in 2017.  Thank you, Grey, Rick, Geoff, Lonnie, and Irene!! With CACHC’s support, they engaged with the provincial political parties to promote greater awareness and advocated for the CHC model in BC. In 2018, BCACHC organized a second successful Western Canada event, the Canada-U.S. Community Health Centres Summit (hosted by Cool Aid in Victoria) included participation from neighbouring US states (e.g., Washinton, Oregon). Minister Dix attended the event and recognized the place of CHCs, stating that “Community health centres are important … They better reflect the needs of that particular community; they have an organizational basis in that community which is strong, important, and lasting.” (https://www.vicnews.com/news/the-ministry-of-health-commits-to-focus-more-on-community-driven-health-networks-43860). In the same year, Grey, Irene and the BCACHC board submitted a request to the Ministry of Health for funds to support CHCs until a sustainable CHC funding model can be developed. This was the start of the CHC emergency (now called primary care) grant that BCACHC continues to administer today. In 2019, Irene again played a role in securing funds to support BCACHC’s operation and the first Executive Director of BCACHC, Val St. John, was hired in 2020.   

Irene, we cannot thank you enough for your dedication to fighting for and growing the national and provincial CHC associations! We commit to following your footsteps and working hard to realise your dream/wish for CHCs in the next 5 years:

Mid-Main CHC

Irene was involved with other aspects of Mid-Main’s work as a partner, and a contractor for a few years before taking on the ED role in 2005. This was the start of her long tenure and involvement with the community health sector. From 2005-2008 Mid-Main was a pilot in several provincial and regional initiatives, including being an early adopter of EMR and one of the first primary care settings in BC to incorporate a licensed nurse practitioner into the team.  Irene described her time at Mid-Main as being full of ups and downs with funding losses and rebuilding their team under new payment models. She sometimes felt during these past 18 years that she needed to “ keep moving as fast as I can just to maintain the same level of care for our patients”.   

Irene shared that she is most proud that Mid-Main managed to weather all the changes and continue to grow from strength to strength and she is glad that they are set up for many decades more in their beautiful new building. Her wish for Mid-Main is for the organization and its wonderful team “to be better than ever, bigger than ever, ready to face what comes next…with the support and leadership of their board and everyone else who is showing up every day to do their job…listen to the right voices… and not losing their vision”. Mid-Main serves over 18,000 people annually in their dental, primary care (over 7000 attached patients), and other programming. Read more about Mid-Main here and listen to Irene talk to CACHC in 2021 about Mid-Main and the need for increased federal and provincial investment in Community Health Centres here.

“The Mid Main Board is immensely grateful to Irene for her dedicated and accomplished leadership of our Community Health Centre and for her many significant contributions to the CHC movement across BC. We will honour Irene and celebrate her achievements later this Fall” (Mid-Main Board of Directors)”. Mid-Main Board of Directors.

The CHC community in BC wishes Irene the very best in her retirement and BCACHC looks forward to tapping Irene’s experience and expertise to support our committee work and projects.

Irene, we hope to see you again soon!

As Irene bids farewell to Vancouver, we are happy that she will have more time to spend with this special little person! What would Irene miss most? “The comradery of all the CHCs…being part of the movement…witnessing the growth and development of CHCs”