Town hall meetings were a worthwhile dialogue

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I want to respond to the opinions expressed by Betty Wells in a recent letter to the editor entitled “A worthwhile dialogue or a PR exercise?”

To clarify, the six town-hall meetings organized by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) across Canada (of which St. John’s was the last on June 3), were intended to provide a serious dialogue for discussing the social determinants of health in various Canadian communities and help to identify common issues across the nation.

As stated, St. John’s was the site of the last of the locations in the cross-Canada series and, in fact, the CMA did not invite itself to St. John’s at all.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Housing and Homelessness Network (NLHHN) had actually been invited to participate in the CMA town-hall session in Charlottetown, P.E.I., on March 28.

After the event I came away so impressed by the quality of the discussion that I, and representatives from other local community organizations, asked the CMA to hold one in St. John’s, as well.

More discussion needed

We did this because we believe social issues — such as poverty and poor, insufficient and inadequate housing — need to be discussed and discussed widely because of the impact they have on people’s health.

Yes, we all completely understand that viruses and bacteria can and do make people sick, but so can poverty and poor housing.

We need to spend an equal amount of time understanding these social issues and their impacts on daily healthy living and the larger discussion of the impact on our economy.

The CMA’s goal with this series of town halls was simply to start a conversation on how these social determinants affect our health and to discuss things that can be done to lessen their impact.

Extremely pleased with turnout

We were extremely pleased to have close to 100 people attend the St. John’s session, with the list of participants representing government, private sector, those with lived experience, concerned citizens, political figures, academia, community services and more.

I believe we currently have a champion in the area of social determinants of health leading the CMA and as president Dr. Anna Reid has said, “Doctors are not experts in the social determinants of health, but we have become experts in dealing with their consequences because we see them in our patients every day. And we have an ethical duty to our patients to work toward a society in which everyone has the opportunity to lead a healthy life.”

The network’s intent in partnering with the Harris Centre at MUN and the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association in helping organize this CMA town hall event was to launch a discussion about the impact that these social issues have on health, and with the CMA taking the lead, there was a level of credibility and focus given to this important subject.

I was surprised to see Ms. Wells dismiss it so easily.

As with all events we organize we have followed up with participants to help garner participant feedback on the event, with

the majority stating they were extremely satisfied with this event.

In closing, I would like to add that while we were not engaged or involved with the implementation and recommendations of previous reports on socio-economic issues affecting health that Wells mentions in her letter, as executive director of the NL Housing and Homelessness Network, I can and will take responsibility for the dissemination, further discussion and application of the CMA’s forthcoming report of the social determinants of health here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Kimberly Yetman Dawson

is the executive director

of the Newfoundland and Labrador

 Housing and Homelessness Network.

Organizations: Canadian Medical Association, Cross-Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Harris Centre Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association NL Housing

Geographic location: Canada, Charlottetown, Newfoundland

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