In recent years we have come to appreciate the importance of general living conditions. Known as the social determinants of health, they determine 60 per cent of our health status. Our income, education, occupation, early life nurturing, social support networks, and freedom from discrimination all have a powerful impact on our life expectancy and our likelihood of experiencing illness.
We at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit are committed to helping communities address the social determinants of health. Our health status reports include content on topics such as alcohol and healthy weight gain in pregnancy. We review our programs and services to better ensure access to all. We work with community partner agencies to find and address service gaps for those disadvantaged, such as with the development of Simcoe County’s community housing strategy. We also advocate for policy to address health inequities, such as those related to food insecurity and smoke-free community housing in Simcoe, Muskoka and Barrie.
People of low income are particularly challenged. They die prematurely more often than those with higher incomes. We are giving special attention to their needs in our program delivery, health assessments, partnership work and advocacy, balanced with our overall population health approach, and with the consideration of other populations with health needs.
The Health Unit uses environmentally sustainable business practices – reduced office space, reduced travel, and environmentally friendly procurement practices – to reduce our carbon footprint. We seek to do our part to help address climate change, an emerging major public health threat. We also support changes in community design to improve health through safe physical activity and improved air quality. These changes also greatly reduce the carbon footprint of communities. Simcoe County’s Food and Agriculture Charter, and to continue similar work in Muskoka will help to safeguard local food production and access for all.
Accountability is demonstrated through improving compliance in our Balanced Scorecard, and through perfect compliance on our Accountability Agreement targets with the province (to achieve safe foods sold, safe small water systems, safe pools, less vaccine wastage, rapid response to communicable disease case reports, reduced tobacco sales to youth and increasing breastfeeding supports).
Health unit staff have been trained to work with clients with a wide range of backgrounds, to provide better service. With the launch of the provincial Public Health Sector Strategic Plan, we have the opportunity to augment the capacity of the health unit by working more closely with other health units, the provincial government and Public Health Ontario. The provincial strategic plan’s collective areas of focus are well aligned with the Health Unit’s 2012–2016 strategic plan priorities.
By working closely with our communities and with the rest of the public health community across the province, we will continue to improve the health of the people of Simcoe Muskoka in 2013 and beyond.