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Community Social Planning Council

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- Cool Aid Community Health Centre: Building People, Lives and Community

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Cool Aid logoBy: Dr. Peter D. Speers PhD.

            The Cool Aid Community Health Centre (CACHC) on Johnson Street is housed in a solid redbrick building nestled between a software computer store and a fitness centre. Inside the waiting room you will find outdated magazines on the end tables and health related posters on the walls. It is a bright and cheerful room with just over a dozen chairs for clients. Today the place is full. Some of those waiting are young, some older, some women some men, some are engaged in conversation while others stick pretty much to themselves. With no other evidence in hand, this waiting room might easily be mistaken for any of the multitude of walk-in clinics scattered throughout the city. This similarity is deceptive.  While patients in other clinics wait to see an individual GP, here people have a large menu of services and supports to select from. Today many of the people are waiting to attend a support group for persons with Hepatitis C.

Wayne has been a client with the Health Centre for approximately seventeen years. Over that period of time he has accessed most if not all of the services on offer. His experience includes visits with: doctors, nurse practitioners, nutritionists, counselors and the acupuncturist. This broad spectrum exemplifies the holistic perspective of the core of professional practice at the Centre. For Wayne this approach was a whole new paradigm of health care. Wayne explains that many people affected by poverty have a history of very negative experiences with the traditional medical system. The difference for him lies in the qualitative aspects of care offered by Cool Aid. “It is very nurturing” he says.  The staff at the Cool Aid Community Health Centre has exchanged clinical distance with engagement in “real dialogues about real life situations.” The measure of the change in paradigm becomes evident when Wayne elaborates. “It’s the people and relationships that develop that’s what it is about. It’s a safe place to come and we get treated with dignity.”According to Wayne, people at the Cool Aid Community Health Centre offer compassion “not as a commodity but as something that is sincere”.  If the condition of poverty is experienced as fear of judgment and lack of respect then as Wayne says, the approach provided at the Centre “is the elixir”.

Dr. Danica Gleave is one of seven physicians who practice at Cool Aid. She suggests that from the physician’s perspective work at the Cool Aid Community Health Centre is quite different. She loves the team based aspect of the Community Health Centre (CHC) primary health care model which operates in contradiction to the standard general practice. One of her colleagues has described their model as web-like because no point on the web is more important than another. This metaphor captures the team’s egalitarian philosophy and practice. For Dr. Gleave all the practitioners within the Centre are driven by one simple value: the value of human life.  Dr. Gleave informed me that HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and mental health are some of the common ailments afflicting her patients, and then added that she sees many chronic conditions brought on by a life in poverty. Summing up her personal experience at the clinic she said, “I love working with the people I work with.” Finally, on her own future she reflected, “I’ll be sad some day; I’ll be glad to retire but I will miss this.”

For Irene Haigh-Gidora, the senior manager of Cool Aid Community Health Centre, “the elixir” starts with hiring the right kind of individuals. From the receptionists to the various medical professionals, staff at the Centre are hired for their ability to make people feel welcomed and comfortable. For Irene the fundamental difference between the Centre and other medical clinics is in the model of care. Rather than focusing solely on presenting symptoms, Irene says her staff take a broader perspective; consequently, the health Centre provides a truly integrated and holistic service.  Irene says that profiling a typical client is difficult because each person is unique. However in agreement with Dr. Gleave she stated the clinic regularly sees patients seeking treatment for HIV-related illnesses, Hepatitis C, mental health issues and substance use.  For many clients, their illness has been exacerbated by hard living and homelessness. If there are common factors amongst clients, she suggests, they are: living in poverty and the need for housing.

The Cool Aid Society Community Health Centre is a Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) funded multipurpose organization.  In the 2012/13 year the Community Health Centre (CHC) counted 23,250[1] patient encounters and 4,800[2] visits to the integrated health care providers. With no increase in funding, Health Centre doctors and nurses have seen a 26.7% [3]increase in demand over the last four years. The Health Centre works in close collaboration with other social agencies, in particular AIDS Vancouver Island.  In fact in a typical week the Community Health Centre makes 140[4] referrals to other services. Through the performance of its mission the Cool Aid Community Health Centre carries out research, prevention and health care for a population whose primary condition is poverty. This is an essential service without which our community would be less and the people it serves would be without a medical “home”. As Wayne said; “if you don’t have access to medical care, that’s poverty”.


[1] Victoria Cool Aid Society’s Community Health Centre 2012/13 Annual  Report on Service Provision and Quality Dimensions p.1

[2] As above

[3] As above

[4] As above