Chilliwack Hospital and Health Care Foundation narrows mandate

Chilliwack General Hospital - Cornelia Naylor
Chilliwack General Hospital
— image credit: Cornelia Naylor

When the Chilliwack Hospital and Health Care Foundation (CHHCF) launched in May 2012, it cast itself as a whole new kind of health-care foundation, one that would work to improve the health of local residents by focusing on local community-based projects instead of hospital equipment and bricks and mortar alone.

“We want to facilitate new programs or ones that are existing that are preventive, that keep people out of hospitals,” then-executive director Donna Dixson told the Times two years ago.

The organization set out four pillars in its mandate to improve local health: children and youth, seniors, hospital initiatives and community health.

Despite enthusiasm and local buy-in for that mandate from a wide range of community partners, however, the foundation announced this month it had decided to get back to focusing its fundraising efforts on the hospital.

“At the recent strategic planning session, the CHHCF reconfirmed that Chilliwack General Hospital is a vital part of our community, and must remain the primary mandate of the CHHCF,” a March 5 press release stated. “A natural outcome of this decision was to restructure the CHHCF’s focus on fundraising to provide increased support of our hospital.”

As part of the restructuring, the CHHCF announced it had offloaded its Healthy Kids Initiative to the Chilliwack Division of Family Practice, a non-profit society that represents local family doctors.

Dixson was at a loss to explain what prompted the move, which also eliminated her position.

“I really can’t answer that question. I don’t know,” she said. “We had achieved amazing things in a very short period of time. We were the envy of many organizations, and the partnerships we established were just nothing short of amazing, and anyone that worked with us couldn’t believe what we were able to do. But perhaps it wasn’t the right organization to be doing it. I think that’s what we have to keep in mind. That’s why I’m so excited that the Chilliwack Division of Family Practice is willing to take on the health promotion.”

CHHCF’s board is also happy to see local doctors take over the leadership of the Healthy Kids Initiative.

“The frontline people are the people that have the greatest knowledge and also are most effective in delivering these kind of programs,” CHHCF president John Jansen said.

He said funding was behind the decision to refocus the foundation’s efforts on the hospital instead of local health-promotion initiatives.

“It’s difficult to identify a strong, continuing funding source for those type of programs,” he said. “That’s why it has to be looked at.”

In a recent meeting with B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake, Jansen said the foundation was told the government has no money for local healthy living initiatives and the CHHCF should work through Fraser Health on a regional basis when it comes to health promotion.

“He feels that it’s more effective doing it that way,” Jansen said.

Asked if there was any evidence a regional approach was better, Jansen was ambivalent.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I think a lot of the times, those programs, if they come from the community, because they know what the community’s like, they can customize the initiatives to suit the community’s needs, but [the health minister] says no, it should be more focused on a regional basis and working with different partners. I understand that too because then you can get the resources from different parts.”

A passionate advocate for home-grown health initiatives, Dixson’s view was more cut and dried.

“The only way it works is at a grassroots level, when you actually go in and talk to and get organization by organization and individual by individual engaged in taking responsibility for their own health and the people around them. That’s the only way it works,” she said. “That’s why I believe nothing else is working is because no one else is doing it at a community level like what we were doing.”

The bottom line for both Dixson and Jansen, however, is that the local healthy-living partnerships forged during the CHHCF’s original mandate will endure through the Chilliwack Division of Family Practice, which last week brought on Dixson as community relations co-ordinator.

“One of my jobs is to reconnect now and make sure that people still know there’s opportunity, but now it’s just with the division,” said Dixson. “It’s as simple as that, really.”


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