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.