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More communities adopt CIW to promote public health

At the Prevent More to Treat Less conference, two sessions focused on the potential of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing to develop, deliver, measure and report on initiatives to improve the province’s overall health and wellbeing.  In this column Gary Machan, AOHC’s Community Development Specialist reflects on the positive impact of the CIW framework being applied more widely across the province. 

by Gary Machan, Community Facilitator, AOHC

It is quite remarkable how in the span of just one year, something that was presented largely as a vision  – namely the wide scale adoption of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW)  as a tool for transformation by community-governed health centres – could take root so quickly in communities across Ontario.

A year ago, only two Community Health Centres were applying the CIW in any significant way. Whereas now, as we heard at the Prevent More to Treat Less conference, over twenty Community Health Centres are employing this powerful lever for change in a wide range of ways. What’s more, a growing number are waiting in the wings.

Suffice it to say, the Canadian Index of Wellbeing is here to stay.

The question is: what brought about such a strong response from our member centres? Perhaps the most insightful answer during the conference came from Lynn Beath, Director of Public and Emergency Health Services, Oxford County, during her remarks at the closing plenary.  

“During last year’s conference, I found a passion sitting with the staff of the Oxford CHC that reminded me of my passion for public health.”   

To be sure, for anyone who has had the privilege of working alongside AOHC Board Chair Cate Melito, or to hear her speak about the CIW, the passion is indeed palpable. The same can be said of Woolwich CHC Executive
Director Denise Squires who shared some of the outstanding work she and her staff have performed in Woolwich over the course of the past several years specific to the CIW.

Equally encouraging is the fact that this passion is rapidly expanding to include multitude partners: municipalities, LHINs, United Ways, Community Foundations, Social planning councils, anti-poverty coalitions and Community resource centres.  The fact that the CIW provides a ‘common language’ for an otherwise diverse range of community partners to dialogue effectively and find common ground for joint community initiatives was also voiced as a real asset of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing. We are able to finally “speak a language that everyone understands,” said Lynn Beath.

What Lynn is speaking to is that for many people the term ‘social determinants of health’ does not resonate for many people, and hence has failed to gain traction.  However, what’s clear in Woodstock, as in other communities, is that by talking about the CIW’s quality of life domains, one gets a far more favorable response.

The future does look very promising for the further adoption and expansion of the CIW framework across Ontario. The Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF), an agency of the Government of Ontario, recently renewed their commitment to support the partnership between the Association of Ontario Health Centres (AOHC), its member centres and the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW), one of the world’s leading instruments to measure societal progress.

Listen to Lynn Beath’s summary comments about the CIW work at the Prevent More to Treat Less Conference.