Communities and Health Take Action

Step into someone else shoes.

You are a single parent working hard to balance caring for your 10-year-old son and working at a local grocery store.  You can usually make ends meet at the end of the month, but things are tight.  Nutritious and fresh food is expensive, and getting from your home, to work, and to school is time-consuming without a car. You struggle with the extras like back-to-school expenses, a computer for your son, and your cell and internet bill. If anything unexpected happens, you do not have enough savings or credit to cover it. Your stress level is at an all-time high; you aren’t sure where to turn for support; and you feel like you’re the only one struggling like this.

Now, shift your thinking to a different possibility….Your community has social support groups for single parents and tax clinics. Resources are shared and posted around town, and you know who can help you. A good food box program provides the more expensive but nutritious foods like fresh fruits and vegetables and meat. Transit subsidies help you get around. The technology lending program at the local library provides computers for new resumes, benefit applications, and homework help for your son.

Over the past 4 years, AHS has partnered with Primary Care Networks (PCNs) and local organizations to better understand the financial strain facing many Albertans in four rural communities. Each sector fulfilled a critical role. Health practitioners asked a simple screening question, “Do you ever have difficulty making ends meet at the end of the month?” to gain a better understanding of the whole patient, and not just their healthcare problems. Jointly created primary care and community teams worked to increase awareness and access to financial resources and to co-design appropriate supports for those who were identified as experiencing financial strain.

Teams, led by community members, supported by decision makers, and guided by the Alberta Healthy Communities Approach (AHCA) worked to understand and action strategies based on what is important to unique citizens and their community context. The Community Planning Toolkit a collaboration with the University of Alberta’s Centre for Healthy Communities, provided evidence-based recommendations and strategies for action on financial strain. Together, the teams collaboratively designed local solutions to support health by addressing financial concerns in a sensitive, compassionate, and sustainable way.

Key lessons learned from working in partnership at the community-level to enhance financial wellbeing:

  1. Take a comprehensive approach by coordinating, collaborating, and partnering.
  2. Be creative and take risks to have difficult conversations.
  3. Go beyond income level - people who fall outside of typical income cut-offs may have fewer services and benefits available to them.
  4. Hire caring and skilled front-line staff who are non-judgemental, adaptable, and good listeners to support those with financial strain.
  5. Listen to people living with financial strain to ensure strategies are tailored to actual needs and to the context of the community.  
  6. Evaluate carefully by focusing on what is strong and ways to improve.


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