Medical: Getting Health Care Close To Home

by Claudio Munoz

Community Health Centres (CHCs) could be one of your best friends in staying healthy.
They are close to home, ready to help, and deeply aware of your problems – all of them – not only medical. CHCs are non-profit organizations that provide primary health care and health promotion programs for individuals, families and the community in general. Their goal is to help the population to be more responsible about their health and wellbeing.

In Ontario, there are 56 Community Health Centres. In terms of clinical help, they are not emergency services so you need to make an appointment first to see a doctor, a practitioner nurse or a dietician. But if you are participating in a health education program or just gathering information about their services, you can drop in. In any case, CHCs only serve a defined community, bordered by a “catchment area”, meaning only people living or working within a geographical area close to the centre. So, before going to a centre you need to find out which one is the right one according to your address.

Christopher McIntosh, Director of Health Services at Davenport-Perth Neighbourhood and Community Health Centre, explains that CHCs “are designed to provide services to the general population, but also to individuals that experience a lot of barriers. Some newcomers are in these groups.” That’s why CHCs provide interpretation services, for example. They also have a limited amount of money to take care of people without insurance (without OHIP.)

Precisely, the main difference between CHCs and other primary care institutions (family doctors or walk in clinics) is that CHCs provide services for everybody regardless of whether they are covered or not. “People with OHIP can go into either a walk-in clinic or search around for a physician that is taking new patients,” McIntosh explains. “But people without OHIP have fewer options because if they go to a walk-in clinic they would be charged.” Even though CHCS will always try to help you, take into consideration that every one of them has a limited budget so the number of patients they can attend to is also limited.

Health Education

The kind of medical services that you can find are similar to those of a family doctor or a family office. You can find family doctors, nurse practitioners, and specialists like dieticians, or even chiropractors and social workers at most CHCs. But health today is not just “not feeling ill” or fighting diseases, it is all about your wellbeing and staying healthy. Consistently, CHCs also provide health education programs that usually deal with the most common problems of the community. “A big part of the work we do is to provide education. We have guidelines – some of them put together by the Ministry or different associations, like the diabetes association – that tell practitioners the best way to do things,” McIntosh says. “We have the obligation to inform and provide education – like ‘this is the best way to fight diabetes’. You have choices and it’s up to you to decide.”

“We provide a number of health promotion programs like early days programs for pregnant women and for kids up to 6 years; for youth, adults and seniors, and also diabetes education and health promotion,” Jackeline Barragan, Community Health Programs Manager at Black Creek Community Health Centre explains. A good example is “Healthy Newcomer” a program at Black Creek that provides answers for a number of questions about the Ontario health care system: where you can go for assistance, where you can get on OHIP, what to do if you need to call a doctor. It is a not a workshop, it’s a group that meets every first Monday of the month with plenty of questions that the people at Black Creek try to answer.

Most of the programs relate to the problems affecting the community. For example at Black Creek there is a program for teen moms. It is a big issue in the neighbourhood so the centre decided to help this group of women to learn and develop life and parenting skills. “We are looking at social determinants of health, issues like housing, income, employment, child development, and based on that we intervene and provide services,” Barragan explains.

Information for Life

“Community Health Centres have a long history of working with disadvantaged people that goes beyond health care,” Barragan continues.

CHCs work closely with other institutions promoting initiatives within schools, in housing developments, and in the workplace. They connect families with support and self-help groups that offer education, support, or are working to address conditions that affect health. That is the way Community Health Centres contribute to the development of healthy communities.

Sometimes, like the Davenport-Perth Neighbourhood and Community Health Centre, the health care centre is connected to a community centre or a settlement agency. In those cases, all the information and support you need is available in one building.

The stress of adapting to a new country, having difficulties finding a job that matches your qualifications or the isolation that you could be feeling – might affect your health. But there is help. Community Health Centres are closer than you think and they know exactly how to make you feel better.

cnm