October 7, 2021
Building Equitable Futures in South Georgian Bay
It’s Community Health and Wellbeing week! This week, Alliance for Healthier Communities members across the province shared successes and stories of how our organizations are building equitable futures for clients and community members.
Understanding health equity issues and how they impact our community is the first step in building equitable futures. Health equity means that all people can reach their full health potential and should not be disadvantaged by part of their identity. Often, this means offering extra support to those who are facing marginalization or oppression.
At the South Georgian Bay CHC, we strive to ensure everyone receives the care they need to reach their full health potential. We’ve highlighted several factors below that are impacting our community the most and what we’re doing to address these health issues.
Poverty and Health Equity
From the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, “Our health is determined by a lot of things, but research shows that money is the most important. That’s because it influences other living conditions, including access to health services, education, safe and affordable housing, and nutritious, affordable food. Having money can also contribute to a sense of community belonging, which is also connected to health. People with less money have higher rates of chronic disease, use the health care system more often, and are more likely to die earlier than those with more money.”
Additionally, which neighbourhood you live in determines how easy it is to access grocery stores, healthcare services, public transportation, and other factors that impact your health.
Housing and Health Equity
From the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, “Affordable, safe shelter is one of the most fundamental requirements for good health. Inadequate housing and homelessness lead to increased illness and premature death from infectious, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, mental illness and fatal injuries. Housing directly affects health outcomes of individuals and families, enhances their ability to access educational and employment opportunities and ensures the opportunity to participate in the social and economic fabric of the community. Living in substandard housing can lead to unhealthy means of coping as a result of the stress created by poor living conditions. High housing costs reduces accessibility to resources, such as food, employment and income, which are needed to support good health.”
Housing is considered affordable if it costs less than 30% of before-tax household income. In Simcoe County, 47% or renters and 22% of home owners spend 30% more on shelter costs, and these rates continue to increase as housing becomes less affordable.
Read more by visiting: https://www.simcoemuskokahealth.org/docs/default-source/jfy-communities/housing_fact_sheet
Food Security and Health Equity
Food insecurity is determined by many factors, and from an equity perspective, Indigenous and Black households are twice as likely to be living with food insecurity (over 28%), compared to the remainder of the population at (14%) (1). Food insecurity is primarily impacted by household income – in 2019 the cost of feeding a family of four was $954.62 per month! For someone working a full-time job at minimum wage that is nearly half their monthly income.
Household food security can also be impacted by how close you live to a grocery store, the cost of culturally-appropriate food, whether you have a kitchen for preparing food and the skills to prepare it, and so much more.
Food insecurity is strongly related with negative health outcomes, including poorer mental health, chronic pain, diabetes, increased likelihood of hospitalization for acute and chronic health conditions, premature deaths from infectious diseases, and more (2).
Building Health Equity to Address Poverty, Homelessness, and Food Insecurity
As a non-profit primary healthcare organization, we have a disproportionate number of clients who are living in poverty, which impacts their ability to access safe and stable housing, food, transportation, and more. We know that the most effective way of addressing poverty at a community level is by having the government provide a basic income, which would ensure that everyone could afford all the basic things to live a healthy life with dignity.
In the meantime, we work with clients and community partners to address important social determinant of health, including poverty, unsafe or unstable housing, and food insecurity by:
- Having dedicated staff that are trained in system navigation (social workers and registered nurses) to support clients to find access to housing, financial support for low-income Ontarians, income support for individuals with disabilities, community services, and more
- Partnering with the United Way of Simcoe Muskoka to distribute the Urgent Needs Funds to individuals needing one-time support for basic needs such as groceries, clothing, rent, transportation, etc.
- Having a Client Care Fund where clients care access gift cards for a variety of local stores and public services to ensure they can access safe transportation, food, clothing, and other essential needs
- Securing a $25,000 grant during the 2020 holiday season from Community Food Centres Canada, which was distributed to individuals in the community in the form of grocery store gift cards prior to the winter holiday
- Providing temporary funding, in collaboration with community partners, to the local Out of the Cold Shelter, which was used to support the sub-regions strategy to offer safe overnight housing access to individuals in need throughout the pandemic
Addictions and Health Equity
Several communities across Simcoe Muskoka had a disproportionate number of opioid deaths relative to their population size, including Barrie, Orillia, Midland and Wasaga Beach. In Wasaga Beach from 2017-2019, there was an average of 2 deaths per year. In 2020, this number increased to 13 deaths, and the upward trend appears to be continuing in 2021.
How are mental health issues, including addictions and opioid deaths, a health equity issue? While mental health and addictions issues can impact anyone at anytime in their lives, people often experience mental health issues and health inequities or oppression simultaneously (ex. Poverty, homelessness, food insecurity, sexual orientation and gender identity, race, isolation etc.). Additionally, disparities in access to mental health care services can exacerbate health inequities.
Read more at https://www.simcoemuskokahealthstats.org/topics/alcohol-drugs/drugs/opioids/opioid-deaths
Building Health Equity to Address Mental Health and Addictions
As a Community Health Centre, we work to build health equity in mental health and addictions services by:
- Having free access to mental health counselling for clients
- Partnering with Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care to offer Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to the community through Ontario Structured Psychotherapy
- Partnering with RVH’s Rapid Access to Addiction Medicine clinic so that community members can access addiction medicine and counselling services out of our CHC offices
- Partnering with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit to offer harm reduction services to all South Georgian Bay community members (including a needle exchange program and Naloxone distribution)
- Having staff trained in offering stigma-free services, including 2SLGBTQA+ Safer Spaces, Indigenous Cultural Safety training, Harm Reduction training, trauma-informed care and more
- Being a founding member of the Anti-Black Racism Strategy Committee, working towards addressing systemic racism issues in South Georgian Bay
- Securing a $25,000 grant through the United Way of Simcoe Muskoka to increase the availability of the OPP Mental Health Response Unit’s social worker during the pandemic
- Participating in the sub-regional Mental Health Collaborative, an initiative addressing the need for improved coordination of mental health services in South Georgian Bay
Social Isolation and Health Equity
Being socially connected can be very important for people, especially in times of stress. Social connections can come from family, friends, co-workers, and neighbours, and provide people with a sense of belonging to a community.
A lack of social connection can increase the risk of death by 50%. Loneliness can be as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, drinking alcohol, being physically inactive or being obese.
Read more at https://www.simcoemuskokahealth.org/Topics/HealthEquity/WhatMattersToYourHealth/SocialConnection
Building Health Equity to Address Social Isolation
As a Community Health Centre, we are highly aware of the need for addressing social isolation in our community.
- Calling clients during the early stages of the COVID-19 Pandemic for a Wellness Call, where staff checked-in with clients to ensure they were coping with the changes, answering any health-related questions, and assessing the client for isolation syndrome
- In partnership with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, the Town of Wasaga and Collingwood, and local firefighters, offering outreach COVID-19 vaccination clinics to isolated community members who had difficulties accessing other clinics
- Continuing a Social Prescriptions program with social programs where participants can build their social networks and support others
- Offering health and wellness programs where participants are given the opportunities to connect with peers and leaders
- Offering 30-minute appointments with doctors and nurse practitioners to ensure clients health issues and social concerns are addressed
- Committing to building a large volunteer program over the next year through the establishment of two new program development roles, where staff and volunteers will coordinate workshops and programs that are grounded in our model of health and wellbeing
Moving Forward on Building Health Equity
At the South Georgian Bay Community Health Centre, we continuously work towards addressing health equity issues that impact our clients and community members. We know that health equity will only be achieved by working throughout and across systems, which is why our new Mission is to “Build collaborative and inclusive pathways to health”. Over the next three years, we have committed to doing even more to build health equity by integrating the social determinants of health into our strategic plan.
Specifically, we will be advocating for community action to address the social determinants of health, promoting and preserving our speciality in serving people living with vulnerabilities, and offering community wide programs and workshops that are rooted in our Model of Health and Wellbeing. To see our full strategic plan, visit https://www.southgeorgianbaychc.ca/about-us/who-we-are/.