Health: Right or Commodity?

by Cheng-En (Anthony) Huang    

This short reflection piece is submitted to the Centre for Community Partnerships at the University of Toronto, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the alternative reading week project, 2017.


At first, I found out and decided to join ARW for the unique experiences it appears to offer for community work. Also, I have always wished to partake in projects or activities in a non-academic setting.

The motto of ARW this year was ‘Learn from, learn with, learn for’. This three phrases have left a big impression on me during the orientation, and has persisted in my mind during my project.

I joint project #13 at the Unison Health & Community Services Hub, initially with an interest in exploring the Bathurst-Finch community which I have never been to. And I was motivated in learning more about community health, especially in sub-urban areas.

The Action for Neighbourhood Change (ANC) is one of the many services at the hub, which aims to engage local residents through facilitating events that foster community building and cohesion. Furthermore, connecting the vulnerable populations within the community with the wide range of services available at the hub. Namely, legal counselling on immigration, employment, housing, day-care, and primary healthcare. They are also offered in a variety of languages.

Over the three days, my team and I largely worked with the Leah, an ANC staff at the hub, on community engagement through poster promotions in locations nearby, as well as facilitating focus group surveys to get opinions of high school students on their understanding/opinions about the hub.

The focus group was an interesting experience, in which I learned more about the basic ‘rules of thumbs’ in conducting research, which involves voluntary consent from participants and anonymity. Also, I was thrilled to discover the opinions of youths in the area and what they services they deem as important about the hub. My team members were very proactive in raising questions and ensured the smooth execution of the survey protocol, and I also learned and developed skills such as effective communication by probing questions.

As our group went out into the neighbourhood, we observed several large residential areas with little to no food suppliers, a long sidewalks on either ends of the road with several TTC bus stops, and a few NGO facilities. This reflects the phenomenon that I previously learned from a Health and Disease course which indicated that sub-urban areas like Bathurst-Finch rely heavily on automobiles as a mean of transportation, where food suppliers and commercial activities are sparse in some part of the regions. This has great implications on the health status of local residents, which a great proportion are of elderly or diabetic patients.

Turns out, the Unison hub offers a range of healthcare services, and employs health professionals including doctors, nurses, dieticians, and chiropodist. These are funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term care, and generous donors like the United Way, in order to fulfill the pressing needs of primary healthcare access in the community.

We were honoured to engage in great discussions with Mr. Simon Cheng, the hub’s manager. In which he explained the nature of the hub, what it aims for and how it functions, and also the upcoming challenges such as the need for facility expansion (clinical rooms) as the number of patients they serve begin to saturate. Nonetheless, Unison has been providing care to its residents that are free-of-charge, including those that are uninsured by OHIP. Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) are adopted by the organisation, yielding highly efficient patient care and faster referral process, when needed. But notably, each patient is entitled to 20 min. per visit at the clinic, ensuring comprehensive treatment solution and patient education.

Also, as the hub integrates numerous services in its infrastructure, we observed cases of people who are relieved from their medical conditions by having their other concerns addressed, like legal status. This was profound to me to decipher that community health is not solely reliant on only ‘better doctors, better drugs’, but also its ability to tackle the social determinants of health.

At the end of this ARW, I have been inspired to look into more about community health in underserved areas in Toronto, and have been wondering about the question on health. That is, whether health is a right or commodity, and what range of services shall be administered? For instance, OHIP coverage is limited to physician care, without other services like day-care or pharmacare. Should we increase more spending on healthcare to cover more range of services or improve upon those that are already present? Or are the flaws in our healthcare system deals with the allocation of resources? Which many are not reaching out to sub-urban districts and exacerbates the health status of the residents. In short, these three days at Unison have provided me more insights on this topic, and motivated me to learn more.

I would like to thank Cherry the project leader, the coordinator team at the Centre for Community partnerships, all my team members, and most importantly, the friendly staff at Unison hub whom have taught me so much about community health and all the impact which it may bring.

And from this experience, I was further convinced that health services ought to be a right that is affordable, accessible, and attainable to all citizens irrespective of income. How to do so and what I could do right now as a university student are certainly things I expect to reflect upon and take action.


Storying Together, a Storytelling Event

Storying Together Posterby: Elise St. Germain and Gabriele Simmons, CEL placement students at the Toronto and York Region Métis Council

The story of how it is that Elise and I found ourselves in a community-engaged learning class is an interesting one. Interesting too is how it is that our placement organization, the Toronto and York Region Métis Council (TYRMC) came to find us. Hoping to look more closely at the ways in which we take part in, write, and are affected by stories, and with the desire to invite more people into the work of the TYRMC, Elise and I conceived of an event. Storying Together, a storytelling event, was made possible thanks to the generous partnering of Hart House, New College community-engaged learning students working for the Toronto and York Region Métis Council, the Infinite Reach Network and First Nations House. As well, the Centre for Community Partnerships and the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education’s Equity Ideas Fund.

Happening as part of the University of Toronto’s Indigenous Education Week, Storying Together endeavored to capture the power of storytelling and the part it plays in forming, finding and reconciling identity(ies). ‘Story’ was presented in a variety of forms at this event: as a short film about urban Métis youth connecting to identity and community through culture and tradition, as digital stories created and produced by Métis community members, and as an in-person sharing circle facilitated by Métis student, Elise St. Germain and myself, a settler-Canadian student. Because of the large participant turnout, we held two smaller-scale circles concurrently. After the closing of the circles, we asked that folks who were interested record short sound bites on their thoughts around ‘story’ on our digital recorder. Elise and I felt that the stories shared in the circles were so insightful that they could be turned into a larger mobile art installation to be presented at our year-end community-engaged learning symposium. Our next steps for this project include fleshing out and further developing this audio-visual component to premiere at our April symposium and then gift to the Toronto and York Region Métis Council.

Both Elise and I were moved by how honestly and openly people shared at our event. There was a palpable sense of urgency felt by all in attendance to collectively work towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples at a personal and community level. According to teachings that Elise has received from Métis Elders and Knowledge Keepers, story is medicine. This idea resonated with many of the individuals in attendance which included teachers, students, therapists, counsellors, and more. Whether we are Indigenous people, settlers, newcomers, or travelers; story has the power to bridge relationships across individual experiences and across communities to promote collective healing.

We hadn’t anticipated that so many people would turn out for the event; it was remarkable to see how its central themes spoke to such an array of people and how we all came together for such a successful evening. As the night came to a close, many individuals expressed an interest in volunteering with and learning more about the Toronto and York Region Métis Council. Elise and I felt so privileged to have helped to facilitate these new partnerships and to have deepened our existing ones. Had it not been for the generosity of Hart House, the Centre for Community Partnerships, and KPE’s Equity Ideas fund, this event would not have been possible. Until next time, UofT!