Living with Illness or Disability - Winner - RISE Community Health Centre

RISE Community Health Centre (CHC) in Vancouver is a primary care clinic offering services akin to family doctors and nurse practitioners. But what they offer is much more – and is grounded in a commitment to improve the health and well-being of people with chronic illness and disability. RISE (Resilient, Integrative, Socially Just and Equitable) offers team-based care to local residents with supports available for medical and social needs.  

RISE Community Health Centre is a part of Collingwood Neighbourhood house. What sets RISE CHC apart is its focus on holistic health care, covering physical, social, and emotional well-being. In addition to general health concerns, they address the social determinants of health, mild to moderate mental health conditions, addictions, and the coordination of specialized care. Beyond the clinic, RISE extends services to the Renfrew-Collingwood neighbourhood, providing health promotion, harm reduction, and pharmacy services.   

Their commitment extends further through outreach initiatives. RISE CHC provides outreach twice a month in low-income housing buildings: Kingsway Continental, Naomi Place, and Sarah Ross. They also provide weekly outreach to the Morning Star breakfast and shower program for people experiencing homelessness. The team includes nurse practitioners, family physicians, community health workers, and licensed practical nurses, and is supported by medical office assistants, social workers, counsellors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, pharmacists, registered nurses and dietitians.  

They serve people with disabilities, mental health and substance use disorders, who are low-income earning, and people previously experiencing homelessness or at risk. For many, says nurse practitioner Sonja Rietkerk, outreach is the only opportunity that many RISE clients have for accessing primary care. 

“Providing outreach services is an integral way for our RISE CHC team to pursue and honour our CHC’s values of being: Resilient, Integrative, Socially Just, Equitable,” says Sonja. “Getting out of the clinic and connecting with people living in the Renfrew-Collingwood neighbourhood has been a meaningful way to meet people where they are at and to include them into our circle of care.”  

The challenges of the population RISE serves are multi-faceted. Many struggle to visit due to chronic illness, disability, transportation issues, complex health care relationships, fear, difficulty seeking care, and limited access to resources. 

Chronic illnesses and disabilities vary among RISE CHC’s community members. Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia are common. Other chronic conditions include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, obesity, heart and kidney diseases, Alzheimer’s, dementia, substance, and alcohol use disorders. They also encounter people with neurodevelopmental disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder, and physical disabilities like arthritis and brain injuries. 

RISE CHC’s outreach services address these issues. Community members seek care and support during their outreach, some becoming ongoing clients. Their approach prioritizes safety and comfort, benefiting those with complex health care relationships and negative past experiences. Visiting residents’ suites enhances accessibility for those homebound or with mobility challenges. 

The outreach program includes medication reviews and adjustments, involving coordinated efforts between RISE CHC, pharmacies, and external agencies. These efforts underscore their commitment to improving the health and well-being of those with chronic illness and disability. 

“Participating in our outreach initiatives has given so much meaning that permeates through my work experience,” says Mark Rito, a community health worker. “Being able to provide support to clients on outreach and enhance their access to connections to community and care has been a wonderful opportunity – and we hope to continue and strengthen our ability to do so.”