Raechelle Devereaux was a community leader long before she decided to run for office. As the CEO of Guelph Community Health Centre, she’s been one of Guelph’s most important voices on issues at the intersection of health, poverty, and social equity, and now she’s part of a new wave of Liberal candidates running in this election looking to redress the mistakes of the past and reassert a claim to governing.
“The first time I heard [Liberal leader] Stephen [Del Duca] talk in October, he said, ‘When I governed in Queen’s Park in the past, I didn’t have the most becoming behaviors all the time, I engaged in partisanship, shouting across the aisle, and not honouring ideas or issues,'” Devereaux explained to Open Sources Guelph last Thursday.
“Hearing my leader acknowledge that and say, ‘We have listened, we have rebuilt based on that relationship and learning. and I am committing to being different,’ is a leadership quality that I think is very important. To acknowledge when you’ve made mistakes and then say with confidence that you’ll do that different based on the input from the folks that you serve was, to me, incredible.”
Devereaux said that she had to learn similar leadership lessons when she took over at the Community Health Centre, stepping into the role after mistakes were made in managing relations between management and staff.
“When I first became CEO, one of the first things I did at one of our staff meetings was acknowledge that staff engagement and culture had gotten to an all time low,” Devereaux recalled. “The first thing I did as a leader was stand up and say, ‘We’re really sorry, that it got to this point, but let’s move forward in a different way.’ It really surprises people because they’re not often used to hearing leaders talk that way.”
It’s Devereaux’s leadership at CHC that makes her an interesting candidate in this election. Between Community Health’s role in the COVID-19 response to its role in helping to fight the local drug overdose and opioid crises, Devereaux knows that healthcare goes beyond what happens at the hospital, and it often goes beyond health to issues we might think have nothing to do with healthcare.
“The evidence and research is really clear that there are social determinants of health that will influence or impact one’s health trajectory, or health outcomes later in life,” she explained. “Some of those examples include housing, income, food security, or experience of poverty, as well as gender. We know when folks have access to food security, housing, and stabilized and dignified income, their health outcomes improved.”
There is also another factor that’s even more prevalent in the face of a global pandemic.
“We know that when children experience trauma early in life, it changes their brain architecture, and building resilience within communities, or on individual levels in schools and neighborhoods, is a huge protective factor against that experience of trauma,” Devereaux added.
“We often say we’re downstream building bigger hospitals and putting more healthcare focus on the downstream solutions when people are sick, but that notion of social determinants is a core upstream investment and protecting the foundations that guide our health is actually a more efficient and dignified model for our communities.”
So Devereaux wants to turn the system upside down, a project that’s going to take a lot of time, effort, energy and money, especially when we’re in the midst of a countless number of problems from staffing in healthcare to housing affordability. Can she do it?
“I’ve said this many times at debates and in the media that the house is on fire right now, and we need to infuse the system with surge investments,” Devereaux said.
Surging, according to the Liberal platform, means 100,000 new healthcare workers, getting $10 per day childcare in place as soon as possible, and addressing the backlog of parents looking for government support for kids with autism. It also means understanding what the baseline is in terms of the service levels we require, since so many government services have lists of people waiting months or years to receive help.
“What we aim for in comprehensive primary health care is actually a wait time of zero days. Meaning that if you call today for your sore throat, you could get a same day appointment,” Devereaux said. “There is incredible innovation and knowledge in our system to do just that, but what is missing is the staff that are equitably paid to be both recruited and retained in those systems.”