What exactly does a Community Health Centre do?

Did you know – Occupational Health Centre is part of a network of Community Health Centres? Community Health Centres are not-for-profit organizations that provide primary care together with health promotion, community programs and social services in one-on-one and group settings. CHCs are usually located within lower-income neighbourhoods and/or serve specific populations that often run up against structural barriers.

OHC started from the spark of an idea within the Manitoba Federation of Labour. Supported by the work of the MFL Health & Safety Committee, the MFL Occupational Health Centre was founded in 1983 by workers in Manitoba who did not have access to adequate, impartial occupational health care and whose health was suffering from lack of access to care. Over the years, OHC has evolved into a community health centre with primary health care services, health promotion and education, and social services to support communities of workers across Manitoba.

For OHC, our structure as a community health centre (CHC) is integral to how we do our work, and it means a few different things:

We are supported by a multi-disciplinary team of physicians, nurses, social workers, and an ergonomist. Workers who come for an appointment with a physician may also wind up seeing a social worker or an ergonomist, to ensure their care needs are fully met.

OHC provides presentations, workshops, and direct services on a wide variety of topics such as psychological health and safety, workplace violence and workplace sexual harassment, and ergonomics. We also receive requests from the community and provide in-depth research on health and safety issues. Often, clients will be referred back to our health services as a result of these community activities. CHCs refer to this concept of integrating healthy living, community well-being, and primary care as wrap-around care.

We are worker-centred and are governed by a board of directors representing workers from all industries, including representatives from several MFL affiliates. OHC places workers and their perspectives at the centre of our work and believes that healthy workers build healthy workplaces and contribute to healthy communities.

We understand that the health of individuals and communities is largely impacted by social determinants such as gender, language, culture, sexual orientation, religion, physical or mental ability, economic status, level of education, and immigration status. In Canada, the historical and ongoing injustice of colonialism has marginalized entire communities.

We work from a justice and equity focus and are committed to addressing those barriers experienced by marginalized workers in Manitoba. Understanding that equity aims to close the gaps in health outcomes by preferentially directing resources and programs to marginalized communities. At OHC this commitment is primarily reflected in our work with newcomer and migrant workers.

In addition to our tailor-made workshops and presentations, OHC has several ongoing programs meeting the diverse needs of workers:

Our flagship Cross-Cultural Community Development Program, whereby OHC-trained community members provide health and safety workshops and individual assistance in their first languages for workers from 25 different ethnocultural communities. OHC has nearly 80 trainers working in this program, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.

In the past year we launched our much-awaited Consent Culture in the Workplace training, a collaboration between OHC, SERC (Sexuality Education Resource Centre), and Klinic Community Health. Using evidence-based practices and actionable strategies, this newly developed workshop supports workplaces in increasing accountability in a safe and supportive way. This project arose from community demand, locally seen within the #NotMyStellas worker action, and after piloting a general workshop in February 2019, we had the opportunity to pursue Federal funding to continue this work.

In the past several years, OHC has also developed short-term capacity-building projects providing health promotion and education on health and safety rights, institutional resources, and practical skills for food processing workers in the Westman area and a similar project with nail salon workers in Winnipeg. This year, we have begun new work as the Prairie partner on a Pan-Canadian project to bring together service providers, field experts, and women with lived experience, to identify trends and promote policy solutions aimed at ending discrimination against female migrant workers in Canada.

In order for OHC to best serve the broader worker community, as well as specific groups within that community such as newcomers and injured workers, the programs and initiatives OHC provides always stem from community-identified issues; this is fundamental to who we are as a community health centre.

OHC is here to serve workers and their communities, whether through individual medical care and counselling or through educational presentations and workshops on issues affecting your workplace. In addition to our direct care work, and in recognition of our Labour roots, OHC places a priority on advocacy. We will continue to call for policy improvements and protections for workers, such as paid sick leave and access to healthcare for all, and we will push to ensure the contributions of all workers are equally valued and recognized.