Meet CRHESI: Gerda Zonruiter

Gerda Zonruiter

Gerda Zonruiter has 15 years experience working as a social policy and planning researcher with the City of London. During her tenure she has provided research support for a range of portfolios, including homelessness, housing, poverty, social assistance and childcare. Prior to leaving the City to pursue freelance research and consulting work, Gerda was the co-chair of London’s Child and Youth Network’s, Income Security Working Group, working with community members to identify systemic issues of poverty; and recommending changes in the areas of social assistance, minimum wage and affordable housing. Well-versed in the issues of social inclusion, poverty and health equity, Gerda’s involvement with London’s Bridges Out of Poverty ❘ Circles initiative keeps her grounded in the everyday challenges associated with living with poverty.

“Towards a community where health and equity are realized by all”

Heather Lokko, from the Middlesex-London Health Unit, shared her perspective at the CRHESI launch. Here’s what she said:

We know that the health of individuals and communities is significantly influenced by complex interactions between social and economic factors, the physical environment, and individual behaviours and conditions. These factors – the determinants of health – play a key role in determining the health status of our population as a whole. We also know that health inequities – differences in health outcomes that are avoidable, unfair and systematically related to social inequality and disadvantage – do exist in our communities. In order to truly make a sustainable impact on the health of individuals, families, groups and communities we must:
(1) address the social determinants of health, and
(2) work to enhance health equity .
These are both fundamental to the work of public health in Ontario.

In 2011, the Sudbury District Health Unit shared 10 Promising Practices to Guide Local Public Health Practice to Reduce Social Inequities in Health. These promising practices have been very helpful for public health across the province. In 2013, the National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health released a document to provide a framework for public health to better understand our role in enhancing health equity. This tool, Public Health Roles for Improving Health Equity, helps us set priorities and make decisions about how we assess needs, how we plan and implement programs, how we allocate our resources, and how partnerships are viewed and pursued.

Yet in spite of these, and other excellent resources, we still have much to learn about the impact of health inequities. More importantly, we need to know more about how we can effectively create greater health equity in our communities.

And by ‘we’, I don’t just mean public health. I mean all of us, together, different sectors, community members, anyone who is passionate about this. CRHESI is a very significant step for our community, as this Centre will enhance our understanding about what is going on and what we can do about it. Its focus on ensuring strong connections between academia and community are invaluable and, for me, very exciting as I consider the possibilities! I see a growing momentum in our community regarding the social determinants of health and health equity – this is wonderful, and I believe it is what we really need! Many great initiatives are underway. As each of these important pieces in the health equity puzzle take clearer shape and fit themselves together, we will move closer and closer to the picture that we all want to see: a community where health and equity are realized by all.

Heather Lokko is Chief Nursing Officer and Director, Healthy Start, at the Middlesex-London Health Unit. Heather has been a member of the CRHESI Steering Committee since discussions about the Centre began in late 2013. Ask Heather about all this, and African drums.

Official Launch

November 19, 2015 saw our official launch. The event convened over 60 invested citizens, representing a diversity of community organizations and research agendas at Western University.

CRHESI is a joint initiative of community and academic partners led by Western University’s Faculty of Health Sciences and the London InterCommunity Health Centre, bringing together multiple community organizations and university faculties.

Remarks celebrating the launch of this important initiative came from Mayor Matt Brown stressed the value of a university-community partnership to advance anti-poverty and health equity work in London and the surrounding area. Michelle Hurtubise and Helene Berman, CRHESI Co-directors, spoke about the values and impetus behind CRHESI. “Questions of health equity and social inclusion cut across many disciplines and service areas, impacting the wellbeing of Londoners in real and direct ways,” said Helene Berman, also Associate Dean of Research at the Faculty of Health Sciences at Western. “This partnership allows us to study these issues from a multitude of perspectives and areas of expertise with an end goal of improving the health and well-being of people in our community.”

The enthusiasm was echoed by Jim Weese, Dean of Health Sciences, and Mark Daley, Associate VP of Research, both from Western University. Heather Lokko, Associate Director, Oral Health, Communicable Disease & Sexual Health Services at the Middlesex-London Health Unit brought remarks from the Middlesex-London Health Unit. To read Heather’s perspective on CRHESI, click here.