October 3, 2008

The Community Connection

Community Health Advisory Councils Provide Advice, Insight for Winnipeg Health Region

Having a voice in the delivery of health care is music to Sory Sacko's ears.

When the 40-year-old St. Boniface resident immigrated from Mali to Canada nine years ago, he was intimately familiar with private health care systems. In Mali, Sacko was not only a recipient of health care but also a provider, having graduated from medical school in the West African country.

A yearning to learn more about publicly- funded health care delivery fueled Sacko's journey to Canada, and eventually Winnipeg. Now, as a volunteer member of the St. Boniface / St. Vital Community Health Advisory Council (CHAC) of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, Sacko can help improve health care for all Manitobans.

"I always believed health care is the primary element of life," says Sacko, now the Manager of Audio-Visual Services at Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface.

There are six councils in the Winnipeg health region:

These Councils advise the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and provide an ongoing opportunity for community members to share their thoughts and provide suggestions to address important issues that impact the health of local communities.

"Councils are a sample of the population," says Colleen Schneider, Community Health Advisory Councils manager. "They give the board and senior management a sense of what the public wants. You want to have the whole picture about what is going on in each community."

The Councils were created six years ago and each now has between 11 and 15 volunteer members appointed by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's board. Each Council is supported by a WRHA board and staff member who provide information and answers questions about health and social services.

"Council members from the community areas have worked tirelessly this year to provide solid input to our board and management with the development of comprehensive reports on patient experiences,
immigrant and refugee health services and other issues impacting health care in the community," says Dr. John Wade, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority Board Chair.

"Their grassroots perspective is invaluable to our efforts of anticipating and proactively servicing the community's health care needs."

"We are constantly reflecting on how to bring new people in," Schneider says. Council members come from a wide range of employment backgrounds, including people who aren't working and students, and of different ages, cultural backgrounds, and perspectives.

The WRHA Board, with input from Council members, chooses topics for the Councils to explore.

Over the years, Councils have explored a wide range of topics from ways to improve patient safety, compassionate care and improving communication to immigrant and refugee health perspectives, barriers to active living and mental health promotion strategies, just to name a few.

Most notably, the Council suggested creating a health services directory which is now located in the middle of the Winnipeg MTS white pages. The guide includes the listing and addresses for a majority of the health services offered within the Winnipeg health region.

In spring 2006, the Councils explored barriers people experience when trying to access active living and mental health promotion programs. The Barriers to Active Living and Mental Health Promotion was instrumental for the Winnipeg in motion planning committee and the Chronic Disease Prevention Initiative planning groups in the Seven Oaks, Point Douglas and Downtown areas.

The Councils' suggestions to address economic, safety, and financial barriers resulted in a number of initiatives being piloted, including free swimming lessons for kids, paid transportation to activities, grants for purchase of bathing suits for the kids and "Buddy" walking programs.

This year, the Councils will address housing and homelessness.

"It's not just about health service delivery," says Schneider. "We have to deal with other issues that affect the health of a community such as social issues, housing, poverty, nutrition and the health and well being of vulnerable and isolated groups."

Giving Back

Angela Tessier, a member of the St. James - Assiniboia / Assiniboine South Council, says the Community Health Advisory Council serves as a valuable resource. She appreciates the passion and commitment of her fellow council members to "think outside the box."

Like many Council members, Tessier says working collaboratively with members from different backgrounds is key to keeping ideas and suggestions pertinent to each community.

"To see that the Councils are not just about ideas, I feel as if we are making a contribution," says the 43-year-old Charleswood resident. Leonard Offrowich, a member of the Seven Oaks / Inkster Council, says the feeling of bringing about change makes the experience worthwhile.

"I feel like you are going ahead and affecting changes which are important to peoples lives," he says. "This is one way of having a positive impact of making changes that everyone sees."

For more information about CHAC, joining a Council or for past Council reports, please click here.

- Tammy Melesko


For more health and wellness news, pick up the Fall 2008 edition of Aspire, now available at selected WRHA offices and facilities.

Aspire is also available for download here:

Aspire - Fall 2008

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