Guthrie House: a rural community organizing for wellness
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This paper is interested in the issue of community participation and empowerment in health care provision and decision-making. In Canada, the present scope for public involvement in planning or managing the state's health and social services system is limited. This poses a particular problem for rural communities--places where the provision of health care services has historically been limited when compared to urban locations. These rural communities are now facing a double burden as public policy moves increasingly towards a retrenchment of the welfare state. This paper examines one rural community's response to this double burden. The village of Elgin in rural Ontario recently established Guthrie House, a community-based resource center for health and wellness services. Community participation in this case involved a level of control whereby local citizens together defined the health and social care services that they saw as best meeting the needs of their community. This form of community participation is considerably different from the forms of public involvement in the established medical system and represents a critical link to 'empowering' the local community as partners in health care. Through an examination of Guthrie House, the paper presents a review of some critical 'characteristics' which mark successful community self-help organizations and concludes with a discussion of the policy implications for greater community participation. It is argued that such community participation in health care is a policy option which government should be paying particular attention to in these times of fiscal constraint, increasing health care needs and increasing consumer dissatisfaction with government service provision mechanisms.
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