by Vanessa Scott
The Comox Valley is lucky to have a range of community groups, associations, coalitions and volunteer organizations working to make it a safer, healthier and more sustainable place to live.These initiatives help hold together the fabric of our community well-being. But every issue-specific group works in its own sector, such as education, health or the environment, and there is no one place for groups and citizens to pool their collective intelligence, explore shared priorities and address the big picture issues affecting us all.
That’s why the planning committee behind the proposed Comox Valley Community Health Network (CVCHN ) hosted an all-day public forum on Thurs. Nov. 16 to explore how this collaborative network approach could bring people together to create more positive health outcomes. With financial support from the Association of Registered Nurses of BC (ARNBC), the Comox Valley Healthcare Foundation, Island Health and a private donor, the 150-person forum tapped into participants’ knowledge to identify collective ways to help promote wellbeing.
“The only way we are going to solve challenges to our community is to work together in ‘common unity’ to plan and implement new approaches which have the full support of all our citizens,” says CVCHN supporter Jack Stevens, a retired teacher, former principal and pioneer of the community school movement. “A Community Health Network  offers us the best option for the road ahead.”
The forum was structured around the social determinants of health. These are a dozen key factors that drive community health outcomes, such as economic status, social support, culture and lifestyles.
“It’s exciting to see the potential Comox Valley Community Health Network exploring the power of more systemic and proactive collaborations,” says Courtenay city councilor David Frisch. “Issues like development, neighbourhood planning and transportation all impact well-being. It’s certainly time to look at public health from a holistic and preventative approach rather than the more costly approach of relying on medicine to fix our lifestyles.”
Because social challenges and solutions are interconnected, organizers of the CVCHN forum sought participants with a wide range of perspectives from different backgrounds, including First Nations, social service providers, local officials and interested community members.
“When I heard about the Comox Valley Community Health Network, I thought it was important to be part of that healthy community dialogue,” says Sue Vince, a member of the CV Cycling Coalition and advocate for safe cycling infrastructure. “Cities that build safe, accessible and convenient infrastructure that encourages active travel is key for personal health, community health and world health.”
The Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) is one of the last regions on Vancouver Island without a community health network. “I am very pleased to see the widespread support for this development in the Comox Valley,” said Island Health Medical Health Officer Dr. Charmaine Enns. “Each community health network on Vancouver Island is unique, reflecting the values and priorities of the community. I look forward to learning how this community defines what health and wellness look like to them.”
Most recently the Strathcona Community Health Network formed in 2015 to foster partnerships and leverage resources after a successful public forum, which focused on themes of shared understanding, community building and healing, the environment and the historical context of First Nations.
The environment is a key point of interest and common ground. In the most recent Vital Signs Report by the Comox Valley Community Foundation in 2016, survey respondents identified the environment as the top determinant of a healthy community, followed by arts, culture and recreation.
“The more we learn about the benefits to public health that we receive from green space, parks and natural areas, we see that in many ways our community can only be as healthy as the nature surrounding us,” says Tim Ennis, Executive Director of the Comox Valley Land Trust. “When you add in benefits like cleaner air and cleaner water, wildlife habitat, enhancing biodiversity and potential flood protection, it’s exciting to see how land restoration and conservation are recognized as key parts of building a healthier community.”
The concept of a Comox Valley Community Health Network began as an initiative of ARNBC. With input from other Community Health Networks on Vancouver Island, a planning committee of community members and agency representatives formed to organize the Comox Valley forum. The CVCHN planning committee includes two fourth-year nursing students from North Island College (NIC) who are providing event support.
“I’m excited to be on the organizing committee,” says Melissa Enamorado, NIC student in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. “I think convening a diverse group of people who all share a common interest in a healthier community is a powerful step toward positive social change and solving shared problems.”
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