Last week, Jodi Pearce, a health promoter at Windsor Essex Community Health Centre, received the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award from Health Promotion Canada. This national award “recognizes passionate and visionary health promoters who, during their lifetimes, have made substantial contributions to the promotion of health … and health equity among communities, thereby empowering Canadians to achieve full life potential.” To help mark this milestone moment, we spoke with Pearce about the evolution of health promotion and unleashing the profession’s full potential in the context of comprehensive primary health care.

You’ve worked in a Community Health Centre for nearly three decades, many of them working as a health promoter. Can you speak to why the health promoter role is so crucial in delivering comprehensive primary health care? How is the health promoter role different in the context of a CHC?

I feel that health promotion in primary health care is definitely an approach that extends beyond services one would receive in the traditional health care system. Customarily ‘health care’ consisted of a diagnosis and treatment regime. In more recent years, practitioners are recognizing all of the services and factors that play a part in health, such as income, housing, education, and the environment. Working collaboratively at a CHC, a health promoter is able to assist with the identification of risk factors and prevention of chronic disease, and utilize the resources that exist to assist a client in addressing their individual situation. Health promoters in a CHC, I feel, have a uniquely wonderful opportunity to assess needs, and then design and facilitate programs and services that are necessary in their community. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, and so incorporating health promotion into a CHC makes a lot of sense for addressing the unique needs in one’s community.

Health promotion is sometimes narrowly misunderstood as solely being chronic disease and lifestyle education and prevention, such as stop smoking programs. Can you talk about how you’ve seen the profession evolve?

I feel it is a profession that has gained a lot of momentum over the years. It has moved from a ‘nice idea’ in the early 1990s to some very credible work done across the province. It has grown to incorporate disciplines such as public health, medicine, epidemiology, sociology, psychology, economics and social work.

What are some of the ways that health promoters are uniquely positioned as part of an interprofessional primary health care team to help bridge barriers to good health and wellbeing by addressing factors that impact health equity?

The chance to be creative and the access to so many resources both play a role in being able to design and deliver programs that are outside of the box of “treatment.” The flexibility and support from community members and other CHC staff alike are what I think help to position a health promoter uniquely. The role of a health promoter outside of a CHC can be much different or sometimes siloed into specific tasks such as grant-writing, and while that has its purpose, CHCs often allow more opportunities to take a project from paper to practice.

What are some of the things that health promoters do, and that you’ve done over the years, to ensure that the social determinants of health are being addressed in your community?

Health promotion is not something that can be done alone; partnerships are the key to success. As well, it is not always a single position or staff person who enables the work of health promotion, but instead it’s about incorporating a health promotion approach into everyone’s everyday practice. The ‘it takes a village’ mentality is the key to addressing the social determinants of health in any community.

What are some aspects of your work of which you are most proud?

Most recently, I would say the “Not My Kid” adolescent and opioid community forum was very successful. It was very well attended, and represented a great opportunity to inform community members non-judgmentally while trying to reduce stigma about specific substance use. It’s also served as a very adaptable turnkey project for other communities facing similar issues. [Editor's note: click here to check out Windsor Essex CHC's Teen Health programs and services.]

What can policy and decision-makers do to ensure that health promoters have the best possible impacts across Ontario on the health and wellbeing of people and communities?

Listen and work together. It’s all about the higher levels and grassroots coming to a middle ground, because there is certainly no shortage of work in the health promotion field!

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