The Halifax book launch for “A Healthy Society: How a Focus on Health Can Revive Canadian Democracy” is tonight at The Company House
Healthy people, healthy neighbourhoodBy Lisa Roberts | May 8, 2012
The North End Community Health Centre works to transform a long-neglected part of the city.
Jane Moloney sheepishly fights a smile before blurting out, “I’m proud of this.” Her arms swing wide to show the expanse of the new satellite location of the North End Community Health Centre at 2103 Gottingen Street, a block south of the rabbit warren-like clinic that opened 40 years ago and still serves one of Halifax’s neediest neighbourhoods.
Moloney, originally from New Zealand and now six years a Nova Scotian, became executive director of NECHC in June 2010. Two months later, she convinced the province to commit $70,000 a year to secure a three-year lease. It’s tangible evidence of a community institution that’s pushing—in particular, against a limited budget—to more fully meet its mission: “to support North End Halifax to be a healthy community.”
“I can see we have the potential,” says Moloney, when she contemplates further growth. “We have amazing people, great ideas, a brilliant community that gets on board with stuff. And the challenge is: how are we going to do it in a fiscally responsible way?”
The newly leased and renovated space is called the Johanna B. Oosterveld Building, named for a former executive director who spearheaded the NECHC’s transition from a clinic to a community health centre. It’s a distinction about which Moloney is fierce.
“What community health centres do that’s different is that they belong to their commun-ity… and our intent is to have the direction of our work guided by the needs of our community,” says Moloney, who works with a volunteer board to set priorities and develop a budget, funded primarily by
the Department of Health. “We’re local.”
During the fall of 2011, she led the development of two new programs that address health needs of drug addicts, consistent with a harm-reduction approach. “To be able to treat people where they’re at, rather than tell them where they should be, is the essence of that,” says Moloney.
First, the NECHC is now offering the only community-based Hepatitis C treatment program in Atlantic Canada. “People who have become Hep C positive tend to be living the kinds of lives where it’s difficult to get them into a health care system of any sort,” says Moloney. “To get them managing their lives, managing their nutrition.”
The second is a dentistry program that will operate one day a week out of the new space. “Everybody in the world knows that dental health is a) important and b) inaccessible. For our community it’s even more so,” says Moloney.
Addicts with dental abscesses have a particularly hard time. “They are assumed to be drug-seeking,” says Moloney of their experience at the emergency room. “They may be prescribed an antibiotic if they have
an infection,” but without dental care the abscess will likely return.
Neither program has any new funding attached. Henry Schein, a health-care products company, donated the pricey cabinets and chairs for two dentist offices. The Dalhousie Dental School faculty and students will see the patients.
“I’m constantly thinking, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to provide the front-desk reception costs, and cover the cleaning costs?’” says Moloney, though she has high praise for the Dalhousie Dental School, which is committed to the project even if she fails to come up with the NECHC’s end of the deal. “These sorts of opportunities seem to be the only way [to grow], because we’re not getting more government funding.”
If a harm reduction approach means treating people “where they’re at,” then addressing the social determinants of health means creating the conditions so they end up somewhere different. The North End Community Health Centre does both. Dietitian Jessy Jollymore—a woman with long, corkscrew red hair and a talent for healthy lifestyle start-ups—is largely responsible for the need for the satellite space. The North End Walkers, a weekly walking group she started eight years ago, has grown to 50 people who used to meet in the cramped upstairs board room at the original clinic building.
In early November, Jollymore was responsible for the biggest crowd yet to gather in the Johanna B. Oosterveld Building: Hope Blooms’ launch of new salad dressings. More than 30 youth, mostly pre-teens who live around Uniacke Square, manufacture the pretty bottles of Orange Rosemary Dijon and Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette. They plant and weed the herbs at the NECHC’s community garden site on the grounds of St. Patrick’s Alexandra and in a greenhouse in the parking lot of St. Patrick’s Church. The children then follow recipes concocted by Jollymore’s chef daughter, bottle the dressings, put on labels and truck to the Seaport Farmers’ Market to sell them.
“They have to get up at 5:30,” says Moloney. “We were like, ‘That’s going to get old real quick.’”
It has not gotten old. In fact, the kids have a rotating schedule of market shifts because too many of them wanted to go each week. Jollymore has seen the children grow along with the booming social enterprise. (Definition: an organization that uses business strategies to achieve philanthropic goals). They’re more confident and less stressed. And they eat their vegetables. “They’ll pick field cucumbers in the garden and eat them like apples,” she says. “They stuff both cheeks full of cherry tomatoes. You have to envision things long-term.”
Moloney is impressed at how the children’s long-term visions have changed. When they were first asked what they’d like to be when they grew up, she says, “rap star” and “basketball player” were the most frequent answers from the boys.
“Now,” she says, “when you ask them what they want to be, they say, ‘An engineer,’ ‘A microbiologist,’ ‘An actor,’ ‘A nurse.’”
ROOM TO GROW
The North End Community Health Centre is interested in a permanent, larger home where programs like the North End Walkers and the dentistry clinic could co-exist with doctors’ offices and exam rooms. One possibility: St. Patrick’s Alexandra school, directly behind the clinic on Maitland St., which was closed by the school board in 2009.
“We need to be located within about two square blocks of where we are now,” says Moloney, or many patients won’t feel comfortable accessing the clinic. The bid for the school was also an expression of the health centre’s relationship with the community it serves.
“The board want[ed]… to keep it in community ownership,” Moloney said in November. “We wouldn’t be tearing our hair out if our proposal wasn’t successful, as long as it goes to one of the non-profit bids.” In late January, Halifax Regional Council voted to proceed with the sale of the property to Jono Developments. The NECHC is working with other community organizations to fight the decision.