Our first client welcomed at our new site with Nurse Practitioner Nicole Ouellette (left) and Dr Julie Breton-Fortin (right).

West Nipissing Community Health Centre (CHC) is celebrating a major milestone – the grand opening of its new building in a former school. This bilingual centre is one of more than 20 AOHC members that provide French-language services to Franco-Ontarians across the province. West Nipissing CHC has been serving people and communities in Sturgeon Falls since 2010, but up until recently it was located in the community’s former hospital. Thanks to the funding from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, the CHC now has a new site better suited to offer programs and services that meet community needs.   

In the lead up to Franco-Ontarian Day and Community Health and Wellbeing Week, we caught up with Guy Robichaud, Executive Director of West Nipissing CHC.

Congratulations to you and your community on the new building. Can you tell us more about the key features of the new space that will allow West Nipissing CHC to serve the community in new ways?

It’s a slightly larger, better managed space. In fact, we have roughly 800 square feet more than we used to have at the old location. The new one used to be a school. It was completely gutted and renovated based on our needs. What’s really good is that the primary care section of the building has been configured to allow us to serve more clients. We are also very happy to have a more efficient building. Everything is nice, bright and clean.

Are there any new facilities that help make the new site unique?

Yes! We have a community kitchen now. Our dietitian is working with the community health team to set up programs. Unfortunately, we saw a reduction of space for our health promotion programs, but we’re currently working with our Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) and building owner to convert the former school gym into a multi-purpose room to hold many of our programs.

What are you doing to tailor West Nipissing CHC’s programs and services to the needs of your community?

Every three years, we use a public consultation process to refresh our planning. This ensures we are in touch with community needs. For example, we recently launched the Good Food Box program as part of our poverty reduction strategy. That came straight out of the consultations that we led. We became aware that some families are not eating well and not necessarily going to the food bank, so that’s why we decided to start this new program. But that’s just one program among many others.

Now that we have a permanent location, it will make sense to invest time and resources into developing additional long-term programs. We are going to look into setting up a community garden. That’s really exciting for us. We have the old age home right next door, and a few schools nearby, so we want to build community synergy around this project. It is going to take some time, planning and funding, naturally. But at least now we have a building and a space to act as a base.

We know Franco-Ontarians continue to face barriers to health in our province. How do you ensure this population receives adequate services at your centre?

In West Nipissing, over 60 per cent of people are Francophone, so it is one of our priority populations. We are a bilingual centre, and most of our staff speak French. Only two out of more than 20 employees at the centre are primarily English-speaking. So serving French-speaking populations is not an issue for us. In terms of health promotion programs, we run them in parallel – an English session and a French session. If we don’t have enough numbers to do that, we combine the two and go between languages to make it work.

** On September 26, West Nipissing will celebrate its grand opening of the new CHC site. For more details, please go to their Facebook page. (https://www.facebook.com/events/585361938332150/