Tell me about your Community Health Centre
As champions of the Community Health Centre (CHC) model, we're often asked "What is this model all about? What does a CHC look like in action?". Our members are made up of multi-sector, multi-service organizations that don’t fit neatly into a preconceived box of what “healthcare” looks like. We believe that instead of using a cookie-cutter approach, it makes sense to design healthcare and social services based on the needs of the community.
Recently, Mary Chudley had a chance to speak to the local news and shed light on how the CHC model takes shape in downtown Victoria BC, where upwards of 1,500 experience homelessness on a given night, and over 200 individuals lack shelter. Mary is the Director of Health and Support Services at Cool Aid Community Health Centre, and she’s also on the Board of Directors at BCACHC. She took the opportunity to talk with CFAX about what makes a Community Health Centre unique.
CFAX: “People often equate Cool Aid with housing, but talk to me about Cool Aid Community Health Centre. This is an important piece and people need to hear what you’re all about.”
Mary: “The Community Health Centre model is a way of providing health care services that’s quite unique from our traditional idea of going to a doctor, or going to access a walk-in clinic, or even a hospital. Community Health Centres are all over Canada, and they’re really about designing a location that has as many services as possible so that you can be a one-stop shop.”
Mary described how having multiple services in one location provides specific advantages for people who experience barriers when they try to access health and social services.
Mary: “CHCs are designed for priority populations. So this could be – in the case of inner city Victoria – individuals who are homeless or underhoused or who have trouble accessing services because of mental health concerns or substance use disorder, or chronic conditions. But it could also be because you live in Northern BC, and you don’t have access to services because you live in a remote area. So Community Health Centres look different depending on what community they serve.”
Barriers to health
CHCs are governed by communities and they are guided by the principles of social justice and health equity. That means that they are designed to address barriers to a healthy life.
Mary: “The barriers that keep people from accessing health care are the same barriers that keep people from accessing all services. So we provide clinical physician and nursing services, so people can come and see their family doctor, but then they also have access to clinical counselling, or physiotherapy, dietician services. Whatever care makes sense for what they need. It’s about getting to see the right care, by the right provider, at the right time, and providing a relationship to “place” – so that they can access services in a place that they know and feel safe."
Because they are designed with the local community’s needs in mind, issues like historic and systemic oppression, and stigma are all priorities for a CHC team. Unlike a walk-in clinic or a typical hospital, a CHC brings together a team of care providers who are specifically trained to create spaces of trust and safety.
Mary: “If they’re in a place where they feel safe, where they’re engaged with their providers, where their providers are coming from that perspective of being trauma-informed, it can lead to better healthcare outcomes, because people get the help they need.”
Legacy of support
CHC teams are innovative and constantly adapting, but it’s important to remember that this model is not new in BC. Because of gaps in services, communities have been fundraising, governing, and designing their own care plans for decades. Today, over 150,000 BC residents access services via a CHC, but despite the proven impact of the model, CHCs continue to struggle for adequate funding and support.
In 1968, the Cool Aid hotline was started and the hostel opened its doors. The mission was to provide short-term, emergency shelter to transient youth travelling the country. Quickly realizing the increasing local need for further shelter and holistic services, Cool Aid established the “Cool Aid Free Medical Clinic” in 1970. In 1972, it launched its first Dental Clinic. By 1976, Cool Aid united its efforts and the Victoria Cool Aid Society was incorporated.
The team has operated out of the Johnson Street location for over 10 years, and they also go beyond the walls of their CHC to provide mobile outreach to those facing homelessness. Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog series on Cool Aid CHC to hear more about the impact of a CHC Outreach Worker!
Possibilities emerge when multi-disciplinary teams are able to adapt nimbly to the needs of the community.
Hear the full interview with Mary here.