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“It’s about empowering patients to participate”: CMA Health Advocates helps public engage in election‍

It’s a bright blue t-shirt, emblazoned with a simple message —“Put Health Back on the Agenda” — and in the past month it’s been getting Chad Dickie a lot of attention.

He wears the CMA election shirt often, to meetings around British Columbia for his work as a patient partner, and in his downtime, visiting his mother’s assisted-living complex in Langford. People there had lots to say about why health matters.

“One woman, a retired school teacher, started talking about her health history. Then two others shared their challenges with health care and some of the wins too,” he recalls.

To Mr. Dickie, that information is gold.

As a member of the CMA Patient Voice, part of his job is to highlight health issues that are important to the public. And now, during an election campaign, those same insights can be used to educate candidates.

“As a patient advocate, it’s incumbent on me to hold local politicians accountable for issues like seniors care, mental health and addictions, and access to primary care.”- Chad Dickie, CMA Patient Voice member

Access to primary care is one of the key issues affecting Mr. Dickie’s community. At least 37,000 people in the Western Communities of Vancouver Island, many of them First Nations, don’t have access to a family doctor.

“You have an overuse of the emergency departments at hospitals in Victoria and walk-in clinics are at capacity,” he explains. “That leads to disaffection with the health care system, because it’s not meeting patients’ needs.”

Mr. Dickie is currently part of a local steering committee developing a primary care network in the South Island region.

In October, he’ll join CMA President Dr. Sandy Buchman at an election event in Vancouver, where the CMA will be recommending the federal government help establish a new Primary Health Care Transition Fund.

The other election issue Mr. Dickie is promoting is seniors care, a growing concern in a retirement hub like Victoria, where he lives. He also has first-hand experience caring for aging parents, having struggled for years to find proper programs for his father, who died in 2008 with age-related dementia. He’s since learned to better navigate the health system on behalf of his mother, now 89, but thinks the federal government can do more to support caregivers.

“We have to develop a national strategy on seniors care and find ways to challenge the stigma around getting old.”

With the support of the CMA, Mr. Dickie hopes to bring these health issues to light at an election town hall, where residents can engage with local politicians.

“It’s an opportunity for me to help people in my community — whether a senior, someone who’s never voted before or a First Nations person — find their voice and contribute.”