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.