Everyone in BC deserves access to a relational primary care team that involves them in decision making about their health. Primary care should take into account social determinants such as poverty, racism, colonialism. However, for too many people in BC, access to the most basic primary care is not available.
Community Health Centres (CHC) offer an effective, evidence-based approach to increase access to primary health care. CHC’s are not-for-profit organizations that provide primary care together with health promotion, community programs, and social services. As community-driven organizations, CHC’s are able to tailor their programming to best meet the needs of their communities - whether that’s focusing on mental health, cultural programming, or food security.
The BC Health Coalition has been active in public education and advocacy to advance primary health care reform models such as CHC’s. Unfortunately, only a small handful of communities in the province have access to the innovative primary care offered by CHC’s. Despite a commitment by the BC Government to build out the CHC sector, expansion of the model continues to be slow.
Through our Primary Health Care Reform Working Group, we work with partners, existing and emerging CHC’s, and with communities who face multiple barriers to accessing health services to build the movement for CHC’s in BC. We also support other initiatives to improve access to primary health care.
Primary Health Care Reform Issues
CHCs are non-profit primary care organizations that provide integrated health care and social services, with a focus on addressing the social determinants of health. They provide team-based interprofessional health care that includes a range of health care and social service providers, including social workers, family physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, dietitians, occupational therapists, clinical pharmacists, physiotherapists, respiratory therapists, cross-cultural health brokers, First Nations elders, mental health counsellors, and outreach workers, among others. CHCs are community-governed and responsive to the patients/members they serve. Learn more by visiting the BC Association of Community Health Centers website.
Many residents in BC lack access to the mental health care they need. Costs are prohibitive for most without extended health benefits, and a shortage of mental health professionals means even those who can afford the supports they need could wait a long time to get them. It is time that our public health care system starts covering mental health services for everyone, taking a preventative, upstream approach to funding mental health services rather. Community Health Centres could play a key role in primary mental health care delivery, as could neighbourhood houses, immigrant and settlement organizations, and other community service organizations.
Studies have shown that BC’s mandatory three-month wait period for health coverage for for newly arrived immigrants and migrants does not defer costs but delays them. Further, this policy disproportionately harms racialized women and is a violation of their human rights. BC is one of the only two provinces in Canada that still have this harmful and racist policy. Learn more and sign the petition to end the wait period.
A growing body of evidence shows that recent immigrants and newcomers to Canada face barriers to accessing health care. These barriers -- including lack of language and cultural alignment, low levels of literacy, and difficulties navigating the system -- create delays in seeking care and, impact compliance with treatment, and reduce the use of preventative services. Many health care providers do not offer culturally competent care and some refuse to accept patients with language barriers.
Cultural health brokers (CHB) can plan a central role in our health care system and help address barriers to culturally appropriate care. CHB’s are members of the same ethnocultural communities that clients come from and therefore are uniquely positioned to build relationships that facilitate care. There is need for a dramatic increase in funding for CHB’s across the province and for the recognition of CHB’s as members of the health care team.