Community development is fundamental to health care

By Scott Crawford, Regional Manager for Community Development, Population Health

Over the past few months, Horizon’s team of community developers have been blogging about the work they do in their communities – and a lot of their recent work has been in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure folks were supported.

Check out the related links (at the bottom of this page) to read the five blogs, that are a snapshot into the work being done all across Horizon by our community developers. When the provincial government declared a state of emergency, essential community-based services had to re-think how they operated to protect the safety of their clients.

Community development and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic in New Brunswick, so far, has proven to be as much a social determinants of health challenge as a clinical issue.

In fact, the emergency responses to limit the virus’ spread have shone a spotlight on many pre-existing equity problems in our communities. Issues such as food security, social isolation, transportation, and access to accurate, timely information have impacted new groups of society while exacerbating the effects on people already living in poverty.

Horizon community developers have been working with many community organizations and government departments to address these challenges not just for COVID-19 times, but as long-term solutions.

211 now available in New Brunswick

As an example, they have been supporting groups such as Saint John’s Human Development Council and the United Way to advocate for and implement a 211 system for New Brunswick.

211 is a free, bilingual, confidential resource to help New Brunswickers navigate the network of community, social, non-clinical health and government services.

Guaranteed basic income

Another example is community developers are authoring a position paper examining a guaranteed basic income for New Brunswickers. When the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) was implemented, some developers reported up to a 50 per cent decrease in food bank usage.

They have further noted a number of COVID-19 social issues would have been eliminated or greatly reduced if a guaranteed basic income had been in effect when the virus measures were imposed.

Resiliency planning

Now that attention has turned to rebuilding, we know systems and responses were not perfect pre-COVID-19. Rather than simply returning to normal, the pandemic has created an opportunity to look at how and why our systems responded in the past.

The provincial government has undertaken regional resiliency planning across the province to help communities adapt to the new normal, strengthen resiliency and build back better.

Horizon community developers are coordinating three of the 12 regional teams focused on community capacity and resiliency. This 12- to 18-month project aims to identify and analyze

  • New normal impacts (short and long-term)
  • Map community strengths and assets
  • Prioritize actions and leverage community skills, resources and experience to address issues
  • Identify performance measures for their plans (how they will evaluate process and impact)
  • Create implementation team(s) if appropriate to implement plans.

Horizon’s network of community developers has been essential in local emergency response measures.

Boots on the ground and eye in the sky

Community development is often referred to as health’s boots on the ground, but it is also the community’s eye in the sky. Community developers are able to take a 30,000-foot view of a community and are able to assess the strengths and gaps of a local city, town or village.

By combining available data with the community’s identified priorities, developers turn these ideas into plans and plans into action.

At its core, community development is an integral part of a health authority’s population health approach. Population health has gained importance as new challenges emerge like aging populations and increases in chronic diseases to long standing issues such as poverty and its associated challenges.

It’s now widely acknowledged that the solutions to these issues are not only found in hospitals and clinics but on the streets of our communities.

The five key strategies of community development are to:

  1. Engage communities
  2. Strengthen community capacity
  3. Improve access to services and information
  4. Build partnerships and relationships
  5. Create supportive environments

Community developers are committed to moving us all towards greater health equity and are excited to partner on New Brunswick initiatives that are helping people be healthy.

Scott Crawford has been with Horizon since 2002 and is the Regional Manager of Community Development. A graduate of Dalhousie University, Scott has spent his career working with vulnerable and marginalized populations. He has spoken across North America on topics of community development, commonly about engaging young people in solutions.

Scott believes there is no one single answer to healthy communities, rather it’s an ‘all hands on deck’ endeavor that starts on the streets of neighborhoods. Solid data and promising practice must be combined with the priorities and the knowledge of those living in these areas.

All levels of government must coordinate and support communities to heal themselves. Scott’s experience has shown that crime, education, employment, health, family, and housing are interrelated and are all elements of a healthy community.