Why Equity in Our Health System Matters

Lead Together Waterloo Wellington: Why equity in our health system matters

I hear a lot about how the health care experience and health outcomes aren’t the same for ALL residents of Waterloo Wellington. Not all people have the same starting point when it comes to health.

Those who are most vulnerable, marginalized and who experience barriers within our system may have equal access but they certainly don’t have equal outcomes because of a variety of factors including determinants of health like income, education, employment and access to nutritious food.

Our vision is for all our residents to have better health and a better future, not just some of our residents.

To do this, we need to focus on equity and we need to understand that equity is much different than equality.


This graphic is an excellent example of the difference between the two. Simply equity is about all about making sure everyone has the opportunity to experience the same good health outcomes.

Let me tell you more about this through a story.


Rami is 35 years old and has recently immigrated to Canada. When Rami arrived in Canada from the Middle East, he was emotionally lost and destroyed.

In his home country he had endured so many years of violence through war, persecution and even incarceration because of his sexual orientation. The situation was so difficult that he had developed post-traumatic stress disorder. He had lost all hope and was unsure of how his sexual orientation would be received by the health professionals he was seeing.

“When I came to Canada, I felt like a zero as a person.”

Rami also speaks mostly Arabic, which made getting the health care services he needed even more difficult.

Imagine yourself in Rami’s shoes. You have just come to a new country, you are suffering from a serious mental health concern and you don’t know where to turn for help. When you do find care, it is difficult to communicate with your health service providers and you are unsure they truly understand you.

Although Rami had access to care, because of his language barrier and anxiety around his health service provider’s acceptance of his sexuality, he did not have the opportunity to experience the same health outcomes as someone without those concerns.

And that is what health equity is really all about – ensuring everyone, no matter who they are or where they live, has the opportunity to experience the same good health and well-being.

Through a partnership between Carizon and the Waterloo Wellington CMHA , Rami was connected to services as soon as possible and was able to get the help he needed. Over time, Rami built trust with his care providers and was able to start recovering. Rami credits his positive experience to the fact that the care coordinator at CMHA was able to provide him services in his preferred language and in a way that was supportive of his cultural beliefs and sexual orientation.

In Rami’s own words, “As a refugee, this kind of collaboration is crucial because without that support it’s almost impossible to survive,” says Rami. “People shouldn’t fall through the cracks. They didn’t give up on me. Now I feel like I am at 75 per cent and I can start giving back to my community.”

This story has a good outcome – but at what cost?

Rami suffered for a long time alone and isolated – not aware of what supports there were in the community. If more of our health services were designed to support those who face health inequities and if more organizations partnered to create programs to support people like Rami, he may have received care faster.

Addressing health equity is not just the responsibility of one organization. It is the responsibility of each of us, The LHIN, health service providers, our community partners, you and me.

We take the obligation to improve population health and health equity very seriously but we cannot make real change by doing things the same old way. As a health system, we need to innovate and collaborate to make measurable improvements in the overall health of our community by addressing inequities in our system.


Lead Together, Waterloo Wellington


30th – that is where Canada’s health care system ranks on the world stage.* 

Topped by countries from across the globe, with varying social, economic and political climates (France being number one), Canada sits disappointingly low. But why? What would make Canada’s health system the best in the world? And what can we do in Ontario, and specifically in Waterloo Wellington to make it better – for our families, our neighbors and for all members of our community. 

The highest ranked countries have patient focused, high-quality, proven programs and those who need care are able to access that care quickly and easily. But we also need to address things like housing, employment, access to health food, and other social determinants of health and improve the overall health of our population in order to create an efficient, equitable and sustainable health system – the best health system in the world.

Collectively we can achieve great things. We can and must do better. We need to completely rethink how we plan, fund and deliver health care in Waterloo Wellington. Think about what BlackBerry did for the global telecommunications industry as well as the local high-tech sector. They defined an industry, solved problems and innovated in ways that hadn’t even been thought of before.  Others took those ideas and made them better. That is what we need to do in health. To be disruptively innovative and collaborate at all levels of health care, government and public sector agencies – developing solutions to address our toughest health and health care issues at a community level. 

Simply, we need to plan, work and lead together.

To celebrate the launch of the Lead Together, Waterloo Wellington blog, I’ll be asking members of our community to tell me what they are doing to lead health innovation locally. Follow along and tag a fellow leader on Twitter using the hashtag #leadtogetherWW. 

Remember, no matter who we are, we have a role to play in better health for the residents of our local community. At the Waterloo Wellington LHIN, we are focused on improving the health system through collaborative leadership and partnership with everyone in our community – health service providers, community leaders, front line health care staff and everyone who lives and works in Waterloo Wellington. Together, we will create the changes that we all deserve and together we will live better, healthier lives. 



*According to the World Health Organization’s 2000 listing