Reflections on 10 Years
Ten years ago, on February 14, 2002, I started working for the London InterCommunity Health Centre. I had worked in a Toronto-based community health centre (CHC) for seven years prior, and had been involved with CHCs on and off for most of my working career. I had long considered employment within the community health sector as my ideal job. When the position of Executive Director was advertised in the fall of 2001, I was encouraged to apply for it by a couple of London staff members. I was a little intimidated to be honest because I had long been an admirer of Shanthi Radcliffe, the founding executive director. She and her team had created an organization that had embedded a strong community development approach to health, as well as a strong sense of what health equity meant for people who faced barriers to accessing care. Other than the few people I knew who worked at the Health Centre, I knew no one in London.
I was a little surprised when they offered me the position on New Year’s Eve 2001. It had been a long interview process and I thought they had forgotten about the young woman from Toronto (that was how I was described in the newspaper when it was announced I would replace Shanthi!) However, I negotiated a start date and shortly thereafter moved my young daughter to London where I quickly fell in love with what the city had to offer. There is a quality of life that I still appreciate each day with the trails, green space, vibrant music scene, access to the arts – albeit on a smaller scale than a larger city, but still with great quality. I found a community of people who are so generous with their time and their passion for making a difference in the world.
The staff team when I started consisted of 35 passionate and committed individuals. We had an operating budget of around $2.5 million. That group of staff has grown to close to 80 people serving two sites (one on Dundas and Adelaide, the other at Huron and Highbury) and a host of other locations where we offer services in partnership with other community agencies. Our operating budget is now close to $7 million. The Health Centre staff continue to be some of the most passionate, caring and committed individuals that I know. As a community health centre we work with a lot of people that are often turned away by other primary care providers. They can be challenging to work with because they are often struggling with addictions, complex physical health issues that have not been well managed and mental health issues that mean their behavior is sometimes difficult to accept. These same clients are also some of the most appreciative, hard working individuals I have met. They make incredibly difficult choices to address their health concerns and survive, even thrive, despite the odds. In our recent client satisfaction survey, it is the simple comments such as “I am very thankful for the help the team provided. They met my needs – thank you so much for the kindness as the Centre has people with excellent expertise” that illustrate the kind of care offered by our staff and the relationship they have with our clients and community members.
I feel blessed to also work with a Board of Directors who understand the role of a board, are engaged in the work of the Health Centre, give me meaningful feedback and challenge me to do my best. I’ve witnessed the evolution from being mainly funded from a centralized Ministry of Health office to being funded by a Local Integration Health Network with all of its growing pains. However, that change has also meant that we have worked much more closely with the health planners and have had a voice at some of the decision making tables that most impact our work at the Health Centre. We are on the cusp of seeing some potentially dramatic changes with the release of the Drummond report (but that is for another blog, I think). We have gone through our own growing pains as an organization, evolving from a size where we could all fit around the kitchen table (so to speak) to a size where we can’t hold a staff meeting in one of our own meeting rooms because we are so numerous.
There has been an incredible amount of growth and change over the past ten years. I am often in awe at what we have accomplished and how blessed I am to have a job that I love, one that still challenges and excites me. I come to work each day and continue to grow and to learn. I have faced leadership challenges and community challenges and yet I still eagerly anticipate coming to work every single day – or at least 95% of them. I can’t imagine a better place to work and I thank the staff, volunteers, Board members and people of London for being part of it.