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Health Equity Heroes: 'It’s important that people be able to speak for themselves'

What is health equity? What is the work that enables and promotes it? Why is this work so vital? During Community Health and Wellbeing Week 2017, AOHC members are demonstrating the ways that they put Health Equity at the Centre. As part of those efforts, we're going to bring you a stellar lineup of Health Equity Heroes all of this week (and beyond). Get to know the heroes among you, and the ones in neighbouring communities, and let's all celebrate and support this important work that helps everyone achieve their best possible health and wellbeing. Follow this space to read about more heroes, and check out the hashtags #CHWW2017 and #HealthEquityHeroes on social media to learn about even more.

What’s your name, how long have you worked at the centre, and what role(s) do you fill there?
My name is Geraldine Toms, and I’ve worked at the Chatham-Kent Community Health Centres since 2012. I am a Nurse Practitioner.

What does health equity mean to you, and how do make a health equity approach part of your work?
I search for ways to provide full access to as many people that I can. I offer primary care services for adult patients in our CHC and try to eliminate health disparities by ensuring that my clients are connected with the expertise of the collaborative team at our centre. There are instances where I’ve supported people by calling their ODSP worker to ensure they have a special diet allowance, coverage of transportation costs and support with accessing psychological services. In addition to primary care for my roster of clients, I deliver episodic care for people at Westover Treatment Addiction Treatment Centre on a weekly basis as well as for migrant workers at Truly Green Greenhouse on a monthly basis.

Why is taking a health equity approach so important to your work?
Health care to me includes wellness promotion as well as sickness care. There was an international student who was newly arrived to Canada. He and his wife had suffered the loss of several pregnancies. This situation caused this lovely couple severe stress and grief. In spite of language barriers, insurance difficulties, transportation complications due to living in a rural area, and cultural differences in health education, we managed to establish a working relationship and did the basic groundwork and an appropriate referral. I saw this couple in the community recently and they were happy to inform me that they were imminently anticipating the arrival of a healthy child.

In what ways is your centre able to support your health equity approach?
My direct manager has been flexible and supportive of our innovative ideas to provide care to those who do not have access to care. It is my hope that we can continue to expand further in non-traditional ways to meet people where they are.
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What’s your name, how long have you worked at the centre, and what role(s) do you fill there?
My name is Peggy Nickels. I’ve worked as a Health Promoter at Guelph Community Health Centre since July 2010.

What does health equity mean to you, and how do make a health equity approach part of your work?
Health equity is about ensuring that everyone has access to the supports and resources they need to meet their potential for health and wellbeing. It’s different from equality in that it’s not about people getting equal access, since different people need different things to be well and have different starting points in their lives. It also means that we need to listen to what people tell us they need, and work with them to overcome barriers, such as limited income, education, or language, to enable them to meet their needs. For me, it also includes valuing each person for who they are, recognizing and building on their unique capacities, and respecting their right to make their own choices.

Why is taking a health equity approach so important to your work?
It’s important that people be able to speak for themselves when working for changes that affect them and their communities. They have strong ideas and important lived experiences to share but limited opportunities to put them forward. They may also need encouragement to speak publicly and help with preparing their stories. When I see them stand up in front of a group of politicians and agency reps for the first time and clearly speak truth to power, I feel privileged to be part of this work.

In what ways is your centre able to support your health equity approach?
My CHC is a community leader in equity work, and is well-represented by our executive director and others at tables related to equity issues. My supervisor supports my advocacy work and takes issues forward through the appropriate channels. Requests don’t get bogged down in extra bureaucracy and resources are found for unplanned advocacy expenses. Our Anti-Oppression Working Group continuously challenges our organization to reflect on and change practices to be more inclusive.

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