In the midst of B.C.’s housing and opioid crisis, Victoria’s Cool Aid Society hosted international social and health care specialists for the 2018 Canada-U.S. Community Health Centres Summit.
“This is an opportunity for leaders from community health centres across Canada and the U.S. to come together to talk about common challenges and opportunities we face, in delivering community-based integrative primary health care services to people,” said Grey Showler, director of health and supportive services for the Cool Aid Society and president of the B.C. Association for Community Health Centres.
Topics covered included shared struggles such as the opioid crisis, inequalities to access to health care and the low number of people in both countries that have a family doctor.
“Funding is different in both countries, but delivery of the services can often look similar,” Showler continued. “In terms of boots on the ground, what are the nurses and doctors and physiotherapists and dietitians doing, how do they work together to offer these services?”
Community Health Centre representatives from six Canadian provinces and 14 northern American states were in attendance, as well as B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix.
“I think when people work together in teams, when you have doctors and nurse practitioners and social workers working together, that has the potential to provide better service,” Dix said. “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.”
Dix added that in the past, the government has not been particularly supportive of community health centres, but that they are trying to change that, by stepping away from a system reliant on fee for service payment.
“We’re hiring 200 physicians to support this plan, and those will be almost entirely alternate payment doctors, meaning not fee for service. Two hundred nurse practitioners, and 50 pharmacists who play a critical role in primary care,” Dix said. “All of that will be supports both for existing and new primary care networks developing around the province.”
Dix noted that the province is looking to open new community health centres, including one recently established in Kamloops, and two others planned for Surrey and Victoria’s Capital Regional District.
For front-line workers the most difficult obstacle has been to secure funding to keep the community health centres going. In 2018 the Ministry of Health announced $2.3 million towards community health centres, but more guarantees are needed.
“The B.C. Association of Community Health Centres is currently working with the Ministry of Health to secure ongoing core funding,” Showler said. “It’s our sincere hope, and we’re encouraged by discussions with the Minister of Health that we’ll work with those communities to provide services.
He added, “$2 million is a lot of money … But not a lot when you’re talking about health care services spread among our 16 members; it was helpful but just a start.”