Health co-op board gets vote of approval

The votes are in for Victoria’s new community health co-operative.

The
co-op is a community-owned service that bills itself as an alternative
to private health care. Roughly 70 people gathered in the Fairfield
United Church yesterday to elect a board of directors at the group’s
first general meeting.

"Now it gets exciting," said Mark Sherman,
a family physician and newly elected president of the co-op. "Now we
have to start listening to the community and addressing their concerns."

The co-op plans to offer Greater Victoria residents health and
wellness programs and services publicly and more cheaply through
subsidized rates. Organizers say the general meeting turnout was
surprisingly strong, with 12 new members signing up.

Sherman said
the votes establish the co-operative as a legitimate, publicly
supported health organization — a fact that could make secure funding
and other health partnerships easier to secure.

"Since April,
we’ve been sitting and waiting to be here," he said. "Now we can go
forward showing public support, saying ‘Work with us.’"

Still,
the new co-operative faces steep challenges. The group’s funding
remains up in the air, making finding new money a top priority.

The
co-operative must also convince those in the health industry and the
public that these community health groups have value. Many still equate
it with private health care, Sherman said.

"People love the
philosophy but are wondering how to put it into practice," he said.
"It’s public, absolutely, but it’s also community-based. We’re a third
option."

At the general meeting, residents’ main concerns were
keeping health care public, improving accessibility, especially with
complementary or alternative health services and providing better
education about health services to the community.

Co-op members
say they’re optimistic the group can address these concerns. Once set
up, the co-operative plans to offer a broad range of educational
programs and a website showing residents the health services available
in each city area.

Deanna Wildeman said the co-operative offers a
chance to fill the gap between public health care and individual
residents. Wildeman works as a professional midwife and joined up after
the James Bay forum, motivated to find an alternative to giving birth
in a hospital or private home.

"There seems to be a real interest
from the public in this," she said. "It might be one of the ways the
co-operative can start leading the way."

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008