New report identifies ‘unusual health issues’

Cowichan area teens are having babies at more than double the provincial average.

Cowichan area teens are having babies at more than double the provincial average.

Affordable houses and family doctors are usually easier to find in the local region than they are in the rest of the province.

And while people here are living longer than they used to, they still die earlier than elsewhere in B.C. — particularly in the Ladysmith-Chemainus area.

These are just three among dozens of findings about our community revealed Oct. 23 in the Cowichan Communities Health Profile, a sweeping new document designed to show us what things we are doing well to support a healthy community, and where we need to improve.

Compiled by the Our Cowichan Communities Health Network (OCCHN), the profile is 201 pages — and counting — of facts and figures, maps and charts that delve well beyond the traditional model of counting doctors and hospital beds.

The profile may be the first document of its type produced in North America.

“It’s certainly the best I’ve seen that doesn’t focus in on the usual health measures,” Vancouver Island medical health officer Dr. Paul Hasselback said.

Based on the 12 Determinants of Health, it explores broader issues like job income and security, community connection, exercise habits and many other things that are proven to contribute to good health.

“Hospital beds don’t rate high on the determinants of health,” OCCHN co-chair Rob Hutchins said. “We have some unusual health issues.”

The life expectancy rate, for example.

“We’ve got a mystery, something we don’t understand,” Hasselback said. “It’s been like that for 25 years. We’re working on finding out why.”

But the profile isn’t just about identifying areas that need improvement. It also identifies our strengths. Like housing affordability.

“We should be shouting that,” Hasselback said. “You can afford to live here. It’s an asset.”

And that is the point of the profile: providing the relevant data in the relevant areas to guide future research and decision-making toward a healthier community.

The medical health officer hinted that while most of our health resources are poured into treating the sick, better results might be found by focusing on helping people stay well.

“The next part is the exciting part,” he said. “It is taking that information and starting to make a difference.”

The health profile was developed by Golder Associates in conjunction with the OCCHN by pouring through reams of Island Health and Statistics Canada documents and conducting interviews and surveys throughout the Cowichan region.

OCCHN regional facilitator Cindy Lise detailed how it is designed to be a living, growing document, continually updated and adjusted online as new information becomes available.

The OCCHN is a volunteer body formed in the wake of the sudden, unexpected closure of Cowichan Lodge in 2008. The uproar that resulted demonstrated the need for the community to liaise better with Island Health and take an active role in improving and determining its own health care.

The health profile and other information about the organization can be found at www.ourcchn.ca

The 12

Determinants of Health

Health Canada has produced a list of 12 factors that play a significant role in your health. The Cowichan Communities Health Profile details Cowichan’s status under each of these headings.

1: Income and Social Status

2: Social Support Networks

3: Education and Literacy

4: Employment and Working Conditions

5: Social Environments

6: Physical Environments

7: Personal Health and Coping

8: Healthy Childhood Development

9: Biology and Genetic Endowment

10: Health Services

11: Gender

12: Culture