Looking back on 9 years together: Health Nexus says goodbye to HC Link

By Andrea Bodkin

For more than 30 years Health Nexus has been working with diverse partners to help create healthy, equitable and vibrant communities where people of all ages can thrive. A large part of that work has been with a project called HC Link, a collaborative between Health Nexus, the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition, and Parent Action on Drugs. Over the past nine years, we have provided support to communities across Ontario, building the confidence, skills and connections of the groups we have worked with. We delivered provincial conferences, consultations, workshops, webinars, and a variety of educational resources, listservs and social media in English and in French.

Now our time of helping community groups, organizations and partnerships build healthier communities is coming to an end. HC Link ceased operations at the end of March due to a withdrawal of funding.

Endings are a time to look back and celebrate the incredible work that has been accomplished, and all that we’ve learned. That what I’ll do in this blog post.

In 2009, Health Nexus and three other provincial organizations were called on by the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care to form a partnership to support community-based groups working to build healthy communities. Known as HC Link, we played a unique role in building healthy communities across the province.  As a collaborative ourselves, HC Link offered credible expertise in working in partnership to achieve a common goal. Our tools and approaches were based on what we learned from the evidence, our expertise, and the experiences of those we worked with.

What we accomplished

  • Our evaluation results consistently showed that the quality and impact of our services are high. Our services increased capacity and had an impact on communities. More than 82% of clients who received consultations and attended webinars reported increased knowledge and skills. 100% of respondents reported that HC Link made a difference in their work.

  • Between 2010 and the end of 2017, we delivered 2,925 services: 1251 consultations, 353 learning activities, 668 networking services, 653 Information & Knowledge Exchange services.

  • We reached communities across the province. While our reach tended to be highest in Toronto and the southern areas of the province, 14% of our reach were in the northern regions on Ontario.

  • We worked with Francophone communities to deliver French services that met their needs. 22% of our services were French services, and 22% of people who received them received them in French.

  • Over the years our reach expanded beyond public health. In our first two years our primary audience was public health. In our later years our number one audiences were Community Partnerships and Networks and NGOs. We also worked with community and public health, municipalities, and the education sector.

  • Over our 9 years together, we moved from working in partnership to working as a full collaborative. Our partnership withstood the usual growing pains and challenges of working collaboratively, as well as the withdrawal of one of our original members.

 

Key learnings

  • While we had worked in partnership many times, HC Link was the first time that we formed a full collaborative with other provincial organizations. We learned to never underestimate the time and resources needed to collaborate well. This included developing relationships and building trust, developing a business model and organizational structure, establishing common processes and procedures. A never-ending willingness to evaluate, re-examine, and change how we worked on an annual basis was also critical to our success!

  • Key to our ability to collaborate well was the establishment of values and principles that we referred to throughout the life of our work together.  We had to be willing to work from a place of good intention. Each time we needed to change direction or we had a difference of opinion, those statements kept us grounded on what is was we wanted to accomplish: services that put our clients first, met their needs, and were of high quality.

  • In the beginning of HC Link, we established a one-window access point for clients. They could call one phone number, email one address, or completed one online form to access our services. We also adopted an “every door is the right door” approach where clients could contact any member of HC Link. We would then work behind the scenes to meet their needs. This approach was key for people needing our services to find us quickly and easily, with no confusion.

  • Collecting data across organizations, each with their own processes and procedures, can be challenge. There may be a need to compromise and find the “lowest common denominator”, as well as to clearly establish common definitions and processes. 

  • We considered legacy planning, in terms of information management, at the beginning of our work together. This included licencing our website and resources under Creative Commons so that other organizations could leverage what we have developed. This ensures the sustainability

  • Duplication may equal resilience. Duplication can often be viewed as a “bad thing”- an unnecessary waste of resources. But it also provides increased capability to meet clients’ needs in a way that’s flexible, durable, and doesn’t depend on one organization.

While Health Nexus will miss being a part of such a strong collaborative, we are proud of what we accomplished together: we empowered individuals and organizations to make the change needed in their communities.