Working Together for Healthier Communities

When it comes to building healthier communities, we believe it’s important to have people from different sectors involved. That is because partners from different sectors have different expertise and resources to contribute. Collaboration can make all the difference because it draws from the strengths of, and can mobilize the assets of, diverse contributors.

To put this discussion in context, over the past several years, BCHLA, in partnership with the Ministry of Health have been looking at the ways local governments, health authorities and NGOs work together to build healthier communities. And most importantly – how we can do that better.

On October 16th, BCHLA hosted a webinar, ‘Working Together for Healthier Communities’, to look at the elements of a successful collaboration and a few examples of great partnerships that have led to stronger health protection measures in BC communities.

Our first speakers, included Barbara Desjardins, Mayor of Esquimalt, together with Nancy Falconer and Stacey Berisavac from the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS). They described how their collective efforts resulted in rapid policy action to protect youth from a major cancer risk with a youth tanning bed ban.

CCS decided to engage youth based on the National Sun Survey that found 27% of young women between the ages of (16-24) were using indoor tanning equipment, a known carcinogen. CCS worked with youth to come up with a “Tanning is Out” campaign that encouraged high schools to have a ‘tan free grad’ and a ‘tan free summer’. Youth ambassadors for the issue were mobilized to support a proposal at the Capital Regional District (or CRD) to ‘ban indoor tanning for youth under 18’ recommended by the chief medical health officer.

A strong municipal champion, Mayor of Esquimalt, Bard Desjardin worked with CCS and other municipal colleagues to gain support for the CRD ban and then again at the Union of BC Municipalities, where local governments from across BC were able to call on the BC Government to ban indoor tanning for youth under 18.   Continuing to bring forward the science with other health advocates and experts such as Health Authority MHO’s in a provincial task force, the partners achieved success in the spring of 2012 — the BC Government announced that they would be banning indoor tanning for youth under age of 18.

Indoor Tanning From Action To Policy Change

Our second example featured the partnership between the BC Lung Association and the City of Castlegar.  Britt Swoveland from the BC Lung Association and Phil Markin, from the City of Castlegar described their shared work to address a major cause of lung disease through the RadonAware project .

Radon is a naturally occurring, radioactive, colourless, tasteless, odourless gas, which is found across the Province and the second leading cause of lung cancer in Canada.   The RadonAware project undertook activities to look at ways to “Future Proof” new buildings and to test and mitigate radon exposure in existing homes.   By working together they were able to distribute 230 test kits and test mitigation in a selection of homes. This collaboration has resulted in meaningful reform of the BC Building Code which will go onto effect in December 2014.

Britt also outlined what makes partnerships effective:

  1. Common goals (reduce public health risk, educate the public, provide further information to the Code)
  2. Willingness to share resources (staff time, process support)
  3. Each organization contributing their strengths (City has a strong link to the community, NGO has the topic expertise)
  4. Collaborative problem solving (working as a team to solve issues as they arise)
  5. Communication, communication, communication (emails, phone calls, conference calls, etc…)

Radon Presentation.

Exciting changes happen when people with different types of expertise and resources come together to solve problems or make improvements at the local level – and that’s a great way to build healthier communities!