Two health-focussed events took place in Sooke recently.
First was a lesser-advertised Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) sponsored strategic plan road show that took place downstairs at the Community Hall. Second was a locally promoted community-led initiative titled A GP for Me. Both events addressed current issues with health care and both strove to find longer term solutions.
On Friday, November 29, VIHA with their open house, pitched the upcoming VIHA strategic health plan. About 20 residents from Sooke also showed up.
“The open houses that we are doing across Vancouver Island are so that we can seek input into the emerging strategic direction,” said Shannon Marshall, the VIHA Director of Community Relations who was at the Sooke event.
The event consisted mostly of wandering around the room and looking at a series of five panels that spoke to the planned strategic plan.
In addressing the web of issues impacting health, one of their information boards noted, “Our health care system is not the only thing that affects health. Other things also have an impact, including: education, income, housing, transportation, lifestyle and genetics.”
Dr. Richard S. Stanwick, the Chief Medical Health Officer, was on hand to speak to the social determinants of health.
In a family where both parents are working and up to 50 per cent of their income goes towards housing, Stanwick asks, “What are the services in terms of the school system, in terms of quality daycare, that all go toward creating a healthy population?” He acknowledges that “while parents are busy putting bread on the table, their children are being cared for by the system.” For many, it’s simply a fact of life so that they can cover the bare necessities.
The rapid growth of population disparity also concerns Stanwick.
“One of the really distressing figures that came out is that the top 10 per cent of families with kids compared to the bottom 10 per cent earn 12.6 times as much.”
This number quoted by Stanwick comes from the recently published 2013 BC Child Poverty Report Card, which finds the latest figures from Statistics Canada (2011), showed that B.C. ranked the worst in Canada (see worstincanada.org) when it comes to child poverty.
B.C. had a child poverty rate of 18.6 per cent – the worst rate of any province in Canada, using the before-tax low income cut-offs of Statistics Canada as the measure of poverty.
B.C. had the worst poverty rate of any province for children living in single mother families – 49.8 per cent.
B.C. also had the worst poverty rate of any province for children living in two-parent families – 14 per cent.
B.C.’s poverty rate for children under six years at 20.7 per cent is eight percentage points higher than the Canadian average.
British Columbia also had the most unequal distribution of income among rich and poor families with children. The ratio of the average incomes of the richest 10 per cent compared to the poorest 10 per cent was 12. 6 – the worst of any province.
The correlation between low income and bad health become self-perpetuating.
“We know what the consequences are right away, in terms of these kids having greater … illness, more ear infections,” finds Dr. Stanwick, “Being poor is associated with bad health at every age.”
Stanwick connected the dots between poverty, ill health, crime, increased stress and a decrease life expectancy.
“We will have a generation of children that will live a shorter life than their parents,” speculated Stanwick. “The answer is not to get fancier cardiologists building hearts like they do in Star Trek, but in how we can support communities when they do encourage recreation.”
Limited access to recreation due to limited funds have a direct impact on the future health of the population.
Fixing the system would require a more preventative approach to health, instead of the current reactive one. It would also require zeroing down to the community level, becoming for macro-focussed and engaging in an ongoing dialogue with elected officials.
“This,” reminds Stanwick, “is your health authority.”
It is up to the members of each community to provide the input that will be carried forward to the elected officials, and to stay engaged in the conversation for however long it takes.
Community engagement is key. Stanwick estimates that for every one dollar VIHA takes from the public purse, it returns upwards to five dollars of value. Not because they are alchemist, but because of the level of commitment from the community — we the people — to create and develop programs that make us safer drivers, that promote biking to work, and others.
“Give the community a nickel,” says Stanwick, “and they’ll turn it into a dollar.”
A backgrounder of this proposed plan is available at http://www.viha.ca/about_viha/strategic_plan/, along with a link to the Island Health 2018 Consultation Survey (http://viha.fluidsurveys.com/s/ih2018/).
According to Marshall, you can complete the survey as many times as you want. The survey will be up until the end of December
The draft strategic plan will be available online by the end of March.
The second part of this story will appear next week.