On Nov. 16, 150 people gathered in Native Sons Hall to explore whether the Comox Valley should create an official Community Health Network to advance local health priorities in unison.

The answer? A resounding yes.

Now that the Comox Valley Community Health Network (CVCHN) is a reality the organizers, including United Way Central & North Island, the CV Network of the Association of Registered Nurses of BC (CVARNBC), Island Health and others, will need to maintain momentum and spread the word.

Participants at the inaugural forum ranged from citizens, college students and volunteers to elected officials, First Nations, retired teachers and healthcare providers. By the end of the day they voted in favour of forming a community health network due to the many benefits of having shared goals, language and resources and a single hub for local health priorities.

Until now the Comox Valley Regional District was one of the last regions on Vancouver Island without an official community health network.

The all-day forum featured a panel in which community health network representatives from the Strathcona, Alberni-Clayoquot and Cowichan regions shared their views. Each speaker said they were happy their communities chose to form a health network and listed the benefits.

Rob Hutchins from Cowichan said their community health network was borne out of frustration with Island Health and “shocking statistics” that provoked strong and urgent desire for action. “We were choosing not to do well,” said Hutchins. “We’re demanding more of health services and this was our chance to have a voice in decision-making.”

Charmaine Enns, Chief Medical Officer at Island Health, addressed the forum. She said BC’s healthcare system is “more of a disease system” because it often only intervenes late, once a situation has already become a crisis, whether in terms of mental health, access to safe and affordable housing or chronic illness. A key theme was the value of “looking upstream” to connect the dots identify root causes to more effectively target solutions.

Mary Dewitt from the Alberni-Clayoquot Community Health Network shared how it led to a successful Wheels for Wellness program that addresses a key barrier in her region: lack of access to transportation from small coastal communities.
The goal of maximum inclusion and empowerment of the people whose lives are directly affected was echoed by Nick Chowdry. He said the Strathcona Community Health Network is an important meeting place. “It’s about figuring out how to work better together rather than working harder separately,” said Chowdry.

Fourth-year North Island College nursing student Melissa Enamorado-Fuentes, a member of the planning committee, said she felt humbled to see the process come alive.

“The highlight for me was having nearly all of the crowd stand up to say YES to a Comox Valley Community Health Network,” said Enamorado-Fuentes. “As I scanned the room I thought, Wow, how amazing it is to see the community as one agree on working together without hesitation.”

The CV Commnity Health Network will give residents an opportunity to come together to understand regional data, the biggest impacts on health locally, and identify the best opportunities for collaboration. The forum reviewed startling statistics about health and wellbeing in the Comox Valley, such as data showing that 57% of homeless people are women, and that nearly 15% working-age adults and almost 12% of seniors here live in poverty.

The forum created a positive space for an informed yet emotional sharing of the hopes, fears and challenges people face in getting needed health services, such as elder care.

Evelyn Voyageur, an Elder in Residence at NIC, closed the forum. Explaining that we need to know our history in order to do better for all our people, she asked the community to focus on prevention and helping all children be healthy. “We can change the world and get stronger if we stand together,” she said to much applause.

The next challenge for the CVCHN will be to keep people engaged and grow support . “Now we need to form a governance structure and generate an action plan and teams,” said Betty Tate and Lindsay McGuinn, forum planning committee members. “With so much energy and ideas coming up at the first forum, we’re planning to a second forum next year. Stay tuned.”

To learn more, visit the Comox Valley Community Health Network on Facebook or contact cvcommunityhealthnetwork@gmail.com.

Media Contact: Betty Tate – cvcommunityhealthnetwork@gmail.com; 250 218 4457

Comox Valley Community Health Network