A forum in November attracted roughly 150 people to discuss what a Comox Valley-based Community Health Network should prioritize. Photo supplied.

Community Health Network coming to the Comox Valley

The wheels are in motion to establish a Community Health Network in the Comox Valley later this spring.

For the last year, Island Health and a group of Comox Valley residents, agencies, and organizations have been working to implement a Valley-based Community Health Network (CHN).

CHNs are Island Health initiatives that seek to address various health issues and social challenges through better community engagement. Common on Vancouver Island, the networks’ goals are to connect social service providers, agencies, clubs, and other local residents so they can pool their collective skills and mandates. By doing so, the networks can guide the community’s direction for improving health and wellbeing.

Starting April 1, Island Health has pledged to provide $80,000 per year for three years to fund a CHN in the Comox Valley. The Comox Valley Regional District approved acting as a “fiscal host” for administering this funding agreement at its committee of the whole meeting on Jan. 16.

The establishment of a CHN for the Comox Valley has been in the works for about a year.

In January 2017, a group of residents reached out to Island Health to express an interest in establishing a CHN in the Comox Valley.

With Island Health on board, a planning committee was then formed (composed of community members, agency representatives, and other interested residents) to investigate what it could look like.

“The basic idea of a [CHN] is that it’s a community-driven network that addresses social determinants of health,” explained Betty Tate, one of the leads for the CHN planning committee.

“They’re not talking about hospital services, [but] things like housing, income, poverty, child development, transportation, culture, walkability — anything that impacts health in a community.

On Nov. 16, a forum attended by roughly 150 people was hosted at the Native Sons Hall. The day-long event brought people together to discuss which social determinants a Valley-based CHN should focus on.

Lindsay McGinn, another lead for the planning committee, used housing as an example of how health networks can benefit a community.

“There’s already a coalition working on developing affordable housing in the Comox Valley, but housing is a bigger problem than what that coalition can solve on its own,” she said. “What a CHN would do is strengthen the work the coalition is doing by bringing in other groups, individuals, and citizens from a broader perspective to really tackle a big issue that one group on their own can’t do.

“A health network is a broad group of people that can help get those ideas addressed,” McGinn continued. “What we want is for community participation. This network will only be as successful as the people who contribute to it.”

The Comox Valley will be one of the last regions on Vancouver Island to establish a CHN. There are currently such networks operating in the Cowichan Valley, Strathcona Regional District, Sooke, Parksville/Qualicum, and the Alberni Valley.

Tate says another public forum will be held on March 14. The second event will focus on communicating to the public what has been done so far and what the structure of the CHN might look like, in terms of the network’s priority actions.

“We really want to engage citizens in the Comox Valley to pay attention to health,” she said. “When you ask citizens what affects their health, they’ll tell you.”

Now that the CVRD has agreed to the funding agreement with Island Health, Tate said the next step is to hire a coordinator when Island Health’s funding becomes available in April.

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