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Association of Ontario Health Centres
Association des centres de sante de l’Ontario

Ontario's voice for community-governed primary health care.

Health Equity Heroes: 'Staff understand the whole person and family'

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 Lori Kleinsmith, and I’ve been a Health Promoter at Bridges Community Health Centre in Niagara Region for eight years.

What does health equity mean to you, and how do make a health equity approach part of your work?

To me, health equity means the elimination of all barriers to accessing health care services, as well as addressing the broader social determinants of health, such as access to housing, adequate income, decent work, transportation, child care, and more.

Health equity is a part of my everyday work. As a smoke cessation counsellor, I ensure clients can access no-cost nicotine replacement and support services if they wish to quit smoking. In the community, I am an active advocate on issues related to poverty, living wage, precarious employment, housing, and access to dental care.

Why is taking a health equity approach so important to your work?

Through my work with the Niagara Dental Health Coalition, we recently conducted a community survey examining barriers to accessing dental care, which will be used to support our on-going advocacy efforts. The Coalition has also created a tool outlining all publicly-funded, lower cost, and charitable dental care services available for Niagara region residents, which is used regularly by our many community partners.

Advocacy work is challenging, but I know that it is vital to improving the health and quality of life of our clients and our communities.

In what ways is the centre able to support your health equity approach?

Our management team recognizes the importance of health equity work and supports our Health Promoters to take leadership positions to address the social determinants of health. For example, the City of Port Colborne formed a Social Determinants of Health Committee of Council that I currently co-chair.

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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 Aaron Burry, and I am a contract dentist providing dental care at a Eastern Ontario Public Health unit dental clinic within Seaway Valley Community Health Centre.

What does health equity mean to you, and how do make a health equity approach part of your work?

We see many patients from the community who are also clients of Seaway Valley Community Health Centre. These individuals have limited to no access to very basic dental care and are often in pain and have had significant dental problems. I find they are embarrassed by the condition of their mouths and have avoided seeking care due for a number of reasons that go beyond just an inability to afford care.   What has been an amazing experience for me is working with the clinical team at Seaway Valley CHC to address many urgent conditions and create a welcoming a positive environment. As a public health practitioner, my main focus is helping to develop skills and knowledge in the clients we see, so they are in a better position to care for themselves. We help them by eliminating pain and infection, but also importantly to develop the tools and skills to improve their own oral health. 

Why is taking a health equity approach so important to your work?

Over the past six months or so, the oral health team has seen several hundred patients. For me, they all stand out in one common way: they need professional help so that they can be in a better position to look after themselves. The clients we see have often not had dental care for 10 years or more, and in some instances have never had dental care. It has been heartbreaking for me to see very young people who because of their life circumstances -- low income, poverty and complex medical situations -- face terrible levels of infection and pain. The goal is to offer as much help as we can to each person who comes to see us.

In what ways is the centre able to support your health equity approach?

The one aspect that has moved me greatly is the commitment of the staff at Seaway Valley CHC. The public health team comes one day per week. The staff at Seaway know their clients as members of the community, and they go to great lengths to make sure they understand the whole person and family. They are readily available to consult on medical issues that many of our clients face. That means we are able to provide care to individuals in a holistic and effective manner. Through collaboration, we have been able to address urgent dental needs and provide care in a way that is truly patient-centric.

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