December 9, 2023

If ever I had lost my belief that small groups of volunteers can change a society for the better, an idea first declared in the 1960s by sociologist Margaret Mead, that belief was restored recently by meeting up with a hardworking and capable small group working to establish a community health centre in Peterborough.

The data that they have assembled, using their skills and experience, and their consciences as citizens who want to relieve other citizens’ suffering, are impressive.

They are the best kind of volunteers, having no “skin in the game.” They remind me of the early days (late ’70s) of Jamaican Self Help. We attracted Peterborough persons of substance and integrity, such as the late David Sutherland, president of Fleming College, Leo Doiron of St. Joseph’s Hospital and former MPP Gillian Sandeman of Youth Services.

In this case of activity, it is in the health field. The group includes Jonathan Bennett, executive coach and the founder of a leading management consulting firm, Dr. Dawn Lavell-Harvard, director of the First Peoples’ House of Learning at Trent, Sarah Budd of the Chamber of Commerce, who once was in charge of Habitat for Humanity, and Dr. Jim Shipley, a retired physician and member of the board of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

What a sterling group of women and men.

They are seeking from the Ministry of Health of Ontario, $8 million dollars annually for a community health centre (CHC). It is not a new concept. There are 101 of these in Ontario towns and cities, but not in Peterborough. We are the largest centre in south-central Ontario without a CHC.

We have the dreary statistics about people without doctors. In the language of health care, they are “unattached.” I, myself, a privileged person, was without a doctor for a few months until a departing friend said to her doctor: “My husband and are leaving for the West. Would you take on a single friend, an older woman in good health?”

That is, in the parlance of the field, “getting health care by connection.” I felt slightly guilty, but I took it gratefully. The peace of mind that comes from being “attached” can’t be measured, for oneself, and for one’s distant family.

But many people I know are raising a family with no doctor. Figures say that Peterborough has at least 13,000 people seeking a doctor. Half of these are the more vulnerable among us, those with low-income, newcomers, or racialized individuals. Some face homelessness, trauma, and addictions and mental health challenges. They have likely never been attached to a family health care provider.

When they are inadequately cared for, a heavy burden falls on the hospital, which has been, in COVID, heroic. The lack of a CHC is contributing to poor health outcomes, reflected in this data:

In 2019-20, of 42 Ontario Health Teams, we were third worst in premature mortality. In physician visits after hospitalization, we are 4th worst. We rank third highest in opioid-related deaths, and we have double the provincial rate of opioid- related emergency room visits.

The committee seeking to address this is a newly incorporated non-profit. Having gained the support of 28 local agencies, and strengthened by this alarming data, it submitted its proposal for a CHC in August, 2022, and meets weekly to continue to build support for the proposal.

The CHC model takes a team approach to care and is properly resourced to serve 6000 marginalized individuals in our area who otherwise would likely never get attached. It is expected to attract physicians interested in serving this population and working as salaried employees rather than managing their own practice. CHCs act as an anchor to integrate health care with other services and often lead planning around issues such as homelessness response or newcomer settlement.

Citizens concerned with the health and the vitality of the city and county, can learn more and sign up for the newsletter at

Surely this solution of a CHC will earn a positive response from government.


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