Public health has long led the way on driving equity into action – whether Sudbury’s ten promising practices, Saskatoon’s ground-breaking local research and concerted action, Toronto’s work on income inequality and other determinants, the recent comprehensive local equity strategy from Simcoe Muskoka to the National Collaborating Centre on Determinants of Health coordinating and enabling role – and, of course, the on-the-ground innovations being driven by practitioners all across the country. I was very pleased to do a webinar for the Ontario Public Health Association. I set out a 15 point roadmap of strategic directions, alignments, ideas and tools that public health units could adapt to their local conditions and population health challenges.
One theme throughout my talk was that public health is in a very strong position within the current health policy environment. For example, in Ontario, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s Action Plan emphasizes keeping people healthier – including preventing chronic and other conditions, childhood obesity, screening, smoke-free initiatives, etc. The Excellent Care for All Act enshrines equity and population health as fundamental principles of a high-performing healthcare system. There is a shared understanding in all provinces that addressing such challenges of preventing illness, managing chronic conditions more effectively, creating more comprehensive and integrated community-based service delivery, and promoting good health are going to be crucial to long-term sustainability of the healthcare system. Public health can bring its traditions, expertise and local strengths to addressing these key system challenges. Public health has the opportunity to concretely demonstrate that these challenges can be met – and how.
I would put it even more strongly. Public health has more expertise and experience than acute sector colleagues in enabling integrated networks of community-based support and services, delivering effective health promotion, including to the most marginalized and high-need populations, building the necessary cross-sectoral collaborations to address underlying determinants, and developing the up-stream interventions to sustain healthier communities. This creates a real opportunity for public health leadership.