Could community owned co-operatives be the future for healthcare delivery?

On May 11, 2016, 79 Airdrie and area leaders signed a “Community Charter” to express their support for exploring a new model for healthcare delivery. The charter builds on strong foundational work by Highland PCN & Airdrie Health Foundation, and reflects an exciting commitment to continued community collaboration around service model innovation.AirdrieHealthCoop
The Airdrie Community Charter is being championed by the Airdrie & Area Health Benefits Initiative, a community led, grass roots initiative to drive service innovation. The initiative proposes delivery of healthcare through a “comprehensive health benefits Co-op” with some key characteristics:

  • All-in, one stop shop
  • Integrated publicly funded and non-publicly funded health care
  • Locally owned, operated, governed
  • Community gain sharing
  • Cooperative in structure and participation

Why a Co-op Model for Healthcare Delivery?

Canadians continue to experiment with new delivery models for publicly-funded healthcare. Debate remains focused on public or private funding and delivery. But internationally, alternative models of community-centered health service delivery have emerged – including health co-operatives. A major underlying assertion of health co-ops is that individuals & communities are best able to determine their unique needs. Co-ops focus on meeting those needs.

A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.

Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

The seven co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice:

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership
  2. Democratic Member Control
  3. Member Economic Participation
  4. Autonomy and Independent
  5. Education, Training, and Information
  6. Co-operative among Co-operatives
  7. Concern for Community

Alberta’s history is rich in co-ops. There are 387 co-ops in Alberta. We are home to the fourth and fifth largest co-operatives in Canada; United Farmers of Alberta Co-operative Limited, and Calgary Co-op Association Ltd., respectively. Over 100 active health co-operatives exist today in Canada. Most health co-ops in Canada are general membership.

The application of co-ops to health and health care is relatively immature in Alberta, but a natural fit. The Alberta Co-operatives Act would allow formation of a co-op to deliver community centric health and social services.

Co-ops for healthcare offer a comprehensive approach that is co-designed, co-delivered and co-owned with an engaged community. Co-ops consider the entire picture of community health and well-being while addressing individual and family needs, accounting for health status, life events and environment.

More information on the Airdrie initiative.

2 Comments for “Could community owned co-operatives be the future for healthcare delivery?”


this is an elegant option that engages people in identifying their own role in health and health planning. it reminds me of the community health center movement with community boards identifying needs and services and empowering all community members to share both the risks and benefits of cooperating on a common vision of a health system and a healthy community!



This may be an excellent opportunity to support local multidisciplinary healthcare delivery including Physicians, Nurse Practitioners, Physiotherapy, OT, Pharmacy, etc. Funding for multidisciplinary care in Alberta has historically been inequitable with inconsistent delivery of the essential services each of these professionals can offer a community. If a health coop could generate funding and a sustainable equitable funding model to support these services, that by itself would provide a substantial improvement in health services delivery in Airdrie.

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