Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) serves 25% of British Columbia’s population, or over 1 million people, across Greater Vancouver and the Coast Garibaldi area. Its coverage area spans urban settings like Vancouver and Richmond, as well as rural communities on the central coast like Bella Bella, and includes 14 Indigenous communities.
Through its Collaboration Agreements, VCH collaborates with communities to create change using a Healthy Communities approach, a process which helps communities to build their capacity and empowers them to improve health outcomes by focusing on the social determinants of health. Below, learn how these Community Collaboration Agreements work, what they can do for your community, who to contact, and read a case study—Squamish—that demonstrates how these agreements can help communities reach their health-related goals.
Vancouver Coastal Health & Healthy Communities
VCH’s population health and healthy communities teams were created to address the social determinants of health by combining rigorous data collection and analysis with powerful collaborations between VCH and local governments. Each of these teams has a medical health officer, a community of care lead, and a population health lead, as well as support from many other teams and staff, such as the healthy built environment team.
How does Vancouver Coastal Health collaborate with local governments?
Healthy Communities Collaboration Agreements have been the model for how VCH works with communities. Now in 2018, VCH has agreements with 12 of 14 municipalities, as well as agreements with three regional districts, and further partnerships with other communities, including regional districts with which they have not yet signed formal agreements.
Claire Gram describes these agreements as bilateral partnerships—a conversation where both parties identify priority areas and projects that would benefit from collaboration. VCH’s population health team determines which initiatives to pursue by applying criteria with an emphasis on whether the local health data shows a need to address the issue, whether the identified approach is evidence-supported, and whether there is likely to be a relative impact on health as a result of taking action.
While each agreement is different, they all schedule an annual check-up where VCH, municipal staff, and council meet to reflect on the past year and prioritize for the future.
“In Squamish we’ve been particularly fortunate,” said Gram, “because we’ve also had the opportunity to do a workshop with council. It’s much more informal than a council meeting, so there is more freedom to share.”
What can VCH do for your community?
VCH provides the following services:
- Bridge building, networking, catalyzing, convening and engaging;
- Supplying evidence of promising practices;
- Advocacy and education, as well as health expertise;
- Policy and document review;
- Project support with planning, grant applications and community engagement;
- Some funding; and
- Health data and data analysis, particularly through the My Health My Community Survey.
Gram explains that when VCH sees a topic emerge, they work with outside partners to generate knowledge and data to first assess the topic, and then work with local governments to take action.
VCH works with the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health, the BC Healthy Built Environment Alliance, and the BC Alliance for Healthy Living, amongst others, to generate this knowledge. VCH then shares the materials developed through these collaborations through partners like PlanH, a partnership between the BC Healthy Communities Society and the BC Ministry of Health, that has the infrastructure for webinars and other means of distribution.
For example, VCH recently released a special analysis from the My Health; My Community survey on social connectedness, which was presented as part of a larger PlanH webinar on Social Connectedness in May 2018.
Another major way that VCH helps communities is with official community plan (OCP) amendments.
“When there is an OCP amendment coming up we try to get involved before it is drafted,” said Gram. “We try to be proactive and look for opportunities beyond just a public stakeholder. We say, look, we have a partnership; you want to look at the world through a health lens, how can we help you do that meaningfully?”
Case study: Squamish 2040 & early childhood development
In May 2014, with funding from PlanH, Squamish, VCH, and other key partners hosted a learning lab to apply a Healthy Communities lens to their upcoming OCP review. Sarah McJannet, Planner for the District of Squamish, recalls that it was during this event the partners identified early childhood development (ECD) as one of their priority areas.
“I’ve seen many opportunities blossom out of that initial work in 2014,” said McJannet, “and it has all been supported by the partnership with VCH.”
McJannet explained that VCH wanted to frame this burgeoning relationship more formally, and they approached the District with a template agreement that the partners adapted for Squamish. One year later, in May 2015, the District of Squamish and VCH signed their Healthy Communities Collaboration Agreement.
Soon after, at a jointly hosted event called Health Matters, Lianne Carley from the Regional Population Health Team at VCH presented on the ECD topic.
“It was an A-ha moment for council,” said Patricia Heintzman, Mayor of the District of Squamish. “I remember sitting in the room, seeing the staff, everyone thinking we live in the most beautiful, happy place, and then we saw the statistics about the vulnerability of our children entering kindergarten. We had to act.”
Collaborating with VCH, the District of Squamish included healthy community goals, objectives and policies, as well as a variety of evidence-based measures in their new OCP. Collaborating with the early years planning table and other organizations including Sea to Sky Community Services Society, Squamish Nation and School District 48, the community created a Children’s Charter, which was also integrated into the OCP . Claire Gram points to a story like this when she highlights the importance of VCH getting involved at the start of an OCP review—it is much harder to influence change after the document has been written.
At the end of 2017, the collaboration agreement signed in 2015 formally ended. But the partnership between VCH and Squamish continues, with the District re-examining their health priorities annually and determining what actions they plan to undertake.
“We initially signed that community collaboration agreement,” said Heintzman, “because it helped clarify our goals and create a new relationship. Now, collaborating with VCH is embedded in our culture. Whether we are talking about ECD or diabetes, we always think about how we want to build the town in collaboration with VCH.”
An avenue for change
Since 2011, VCH’s healthy communities teams have helped communities achieve remarkable things. Very recently in Squamish, the United Way’s Avenues of Change program committed to invest $400,000 in early childhood development. United Way made this investment because of the collaborative work between Squamish and VCH, and the need for collective action as evidenced by local health data.
“It’s hard to believe we ever planned our community or made big decisions without collaborating with VCH,” said Heintzman. “I think every community should be doing this, and I think it’s only the beginning of this new way of building communities.”
To find the VCH contact for your community, get in touch with Claire Gram, Population Health Policy and Projects Lead for VCH, at 604-675-3800 ex 69613 or visit PlanH’s Health Authority Contacts page for more contact information.