KCHC’s breastfeeding peer support group, started and run by new moms, meets for their summer celebration in a Kingston park.
by Jason Rehel, AOHC story producer and editor
In the speech from the throne on September 12, Premier Wynne reiterated her government’s commitment to community hubs, affirming they make it “easier to access health, social, education, cultural and recreational programs and services that nurture community life.” But creating hubs, and making sure they serve the community in the most effective way, is no easy matter. How can more Ontario communities get there?
Kingston Community Health Centres (KCHC) is a leader showing the way. Its 263 Weller Avenue location, a.k.a. the “Hub,” which opened in 2014, is now a busy hive of interprofessional care, social services, and community-driven programs. Now, nearly 100 Syrian refugees are being provided with housing, immigrant, education and parenting services under the same roof as primary health care. New user-driven programs include a breastfeeding peer support group. For people coping with multiple stresses, the Hub provides seamless wraparound support.
HISTORY OF THE HUB
The vision for the Hub began in 2012 when it became clear that KCHC, and its seven access points, needed to improve the delivery of its many different services: dental care, programs that help low-income families raise healthy children, assistance for youth from deprived communities to complete high school successfully, settlement programs for new immigrants and refugees, as well as a variety of regional programs that promote better access for anyone facing barriers to good health.
“We are the go-to organization whenever there are issues or social challenges in the community,” says Hersh Sehdev, executive director of Kingston Community Health Centres. “But back when our programs were spread across so many sites, we became concerned that we were not properly serving the needs of people already facing barriers. So we set out to build a ‘people place.’ ” The plan: put all programs under one roof, and develop strategies to provide integrated one-stop access to families with limited resources.
THE COMMUNITY BOARD’S ROLE
Driving the development was KCHC’s board, comprised of community members with longstanding involvement in grassroots activism, across education, health and immigration issues.
“A community board makes the bottom line serve the community, rather than the other way around,” says Jim Brown, who’s served as a director on the board since 2011. “That’s the mindset, that’s the heart-setof everybodyat the table. It’s not about competing with other organizations, or letting anything get in the way of clear thinking about your community.”
Part of the board’s clear thinking was that KCHC should maintain its downtown and rural sites, Street Health Centre (SHC) and Napanee Area CHC (NACHC), in the preferred locations suitable to those communities. Both the SHC and NACHC sites are now in new buildings as well. But in the city’s north end, KCHC decided to build the Hub. When it came time to get the municipal government involved, it was the centres’ board that stepped up, Sehdev notes. Board members’ close ties and relationships in the community enabled them to demonstrate the value the Hub would hold for Kingston overall. Now that the Hub is up and running, KCHC’s board works to ensure that the services and programs offered address the most important factors affecting health in the community. This approach is backed up by research that supports community governance as a key factor that leads to a broader range of services, which are better oriented to a community’s specific needs.
WHAT A REAL ‘PEOPLE PLACE’ LOOKS LIKE
Sehdev recalls a young woman coming out of immigrant services, shortly after the Hub opened. She asked about some pictures she saw on the wall, and it turned out the program she was asking about, Better Beginnings, was for parents to learn more about children’s programs and education. “The whole goal of creating the Hub – its design, how it was built, with the community and people at its centre, was to promote access across program boundaries, and to give people control and choice over their own care,” Sehdev says.
The KCHC hub’s physical design further reflects community-centredness: its central meeting area hives off into separate areas for primary care, newcomer, and various other social services. A community café acts as a hub within the Hub, a place where people learn about food and culture, and where newcomers to Canada now play a leading role.
“The immigrant community runs this program now. It’s become a place where people can practise their English and share their food ideas,” Sehdev adds.
A NETWORK OF HUBS ACROSS ONTARIO
KCHC is one of 108 community-governed primary health care organizations across Ontario, many of which serve as community hubs, who put people and communities at the centre of governance, as well as services and program development.
“Because they are rooted in the community and are run by community members, Ontario’s community-governed primary health care organizations often evolve over time to create and run hubs,” says Leah Stephenson, director of special projects for the Association of Ontario Health Centres. “Community-governed hubs like those operated by KCHC enhance community vitality and people’s sense of belonging, because they’re community-centred, and they set out to build the pathways that link the wellbeing of every person with the wider wellbeing of the community as a whole. These incredible impacts are a glimpse of what is possible across Ontario when community-governed health providers very intentionally put people and communities first.”
Between September 26 and October 1, 108 AOHC member centres across Ontario will celebrate Community Health and Wellbeing Week. This year, special events will showcase how health providers put people and communities first in the delivery of services and programs. In the lead-up to Community Health and Wellbeing Week, AOHC centres are sharing principles and practices they apply every day to do this.