Michael M. Rachlis MD MSc FRCPC

Policy Analysis, Epidemiology, Program Evaluation 13 Langley Avenue

Telephone (416) 466-0093 Facsimile (416) 466-4135 Toronto, Ontario

Website: www.michaelrachlis.com E-mail michaelrachlis@rogers.com Canada M4K 1B4

April 2006

Public Health and Primary Health Care


(A Paper Prepared for the Public Health Agency of Canada)


According to the federal government:

The creation of the Public Health Agency of Canada marks the beginning of a new approach to federal leadership and collaboration with provinces and territories on efforts to renew the public health system in Canada and support a sustainable health care system.”

The Report from the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health highlighted that poor linkages between public health and primary health care partly led to the SARS outbreak and it recommended that front line public health workers and health care providers develop better communication and coordination mechanisms.

With increasing concerns about an imminent influenza pandemic, there are concerns that if there were a pandemic many communities would have similar uncoordinated responses to those seen in Toronto with SARS in 2003.

In the past year, the federal government, and other jurisdictions have been investing in public health renewal. As well, as recommended by the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada in 2002, many jurisdictions are emphasizing primary health care reforms. As the Royal Commission stated, “…no other initiative holds as much potential for improving health and sustaining our health care system.”

There are several promising Canadian models of collaboration between public health and primary health care services. This paper reports on a Case Study Workshop on Public Health and Primary Health Care Collaboration held in Winnipeg November 3-4, 2005. The workshop gathered representatives from public health and primary health care from four cities: Ottawa, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, their respective provincial departments of health, and the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada. The paper is in two parts. The first part is a report of a case study workshop held in Winnipeg November 3-4, 2005. The second part offers an analysis of barriers and facilitators to collaboration, draws conclusions and makes recommendations.


There are many examples of public health and PHC collaboration across the country. However, most have started in local communities for somewhat idiosyncratic reasons. With the focus on developing a response to pandemic influenza and other potential catastrophes, the federal government and Public Health Agency of Canada have a unique opportunity to facilitate collaboration between these sectors to enhance the health of Canadians.


  1. Develop an inventory of current collaborations between primary health care and public health.

  2. Establish a mechanism to share best practices displaying public health and primary health care collaboration. This initiative could feature the Agency’s website, links with national leaders (such as those communities attending the November 2005 meeting), and future workshops and conferences.

  3. Establish a fund to promote public health and PHC collaboration through a mechanism similar to the Health Transition Fund

  4. Sponsor a think tank on primary health care’s role during catastrophes such as pandemic influenza.

  5. Support pilot programs for more effective and timely communication between public health and primary health care practitioners. The immediate need is for better communicable disease control.

  6. Ensure that primary health care offices are linked with public health as electronic systems are implemented.

  7. Review the potential public health applications of provincial telephone health advice call lines. Consideration should be given to sponsoring a small think tank and discussion paper.

  8. Review current research grants from the Institute for Health Services and Policy Research and the Canadian Health Services and Research Foundation for primary health care public health collaboration.

Part one: Report of Case Study Workshop on Public Health and Primary Health Care Collaboration. Inn at the Forks, Winnipeg. November 3-4,


The Case Study Workshop on Public Health and Primary Health Care Collaboration was held at the Inn at the Forks in Winnipeg on Thursday November 3rd and Friday November 4th 2005. Dr. David Mowat, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer welcomed the participants (see appendix one) and provided an overview of the Public Health Agency of Canada. He noted that there has been increasing interest in public health and primary health care collaboration since the Naylor report of 2003. He looked forward to the discussion of actual examples of collaboration on the ground to inform the policy discussions currently underway within the federal government. He suggested four goals for the meeting:

  1. Build relationships and networks

  2. Sharing information and experience

  3. Listening to and thinking through steps

  4. Imagining moving forward

Pandemic influenza management, Edmonton – Dr. James. Talbot, deputy medical officer of health, Capital Health Edmonton

Dr. Talbot explained that primary health care was delivered in Capital Health by public health centres (well baby care and immunizations, emergency rooms, individual and group physician practices, and the newly created Local Primary Care Networks (LPCNs). Communication with primary health care physicians is difficult. One-third of family physicians don’t have email connections and during a 2000 meningococcal epidemic in Capital Health in 2000 it took four days to get public health advisories to primary care providers. Now it only takes four hours but there are still questions about how long it would take family physicians to react.

Dr. Talbot suggested that annual influenza campaigns and communicable disease outbreaks be used as an opportunity to improve planning for a pandemic. He said a pandemic will differ from annual influenza in two main ways. First, huge efforts will be required to prevent, mitigate and control the epidemic. Second, the morbidity and mortality will be so large that there will be a risk to essential services as well as a threat to health. Not only will the health system have difficultly dealing with extra sick people but it will face 25%+ absenteeism amongst its staff. Other essential services such as police, fire, and ambulance will suffer acute personnel shortages.

Capital Health estimates that of a population of one million, 170,000 - 430,000 will be ill, 88,000 - 206,000 will require outpatient care, 1,900- 4,300 will require hospitalization, and there will be 300 - 800 deaths. As compared to normal influenza season, there will be 4 to 7 times as many outpatient visits, 4 to 7 times as many hospitalizations, and 8 to 20 times as many deaths.

Within Capital Health’s plans for pandemic control, public health has the responsibility to plan, evaluate, communicate and coordinate. Primary health car’s role includes infection control in PHC offices and providing essential service delivery, especially to patients with chronic illness. Capital Health is assisting family doctors develop contingency plans for treating more patients with less staff. Capital Health is using the concept of Maximum Tolerable Outages to estimate the maximum length of time that a health service can be safely suspended from active operation. This involves assigning priority ranks to services, with the involvement of the service providers.


The lack of organization of primary health care which features a series of independent contractors (family doctors) is the main barrier to better collaboration.



There was a lively discussion of public health agencies problems communicating with family doctors. Laura Muldoon suggested that communications be sent with lab results. Mary-Anne Robinson, director of primary health care for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority noted as had Dr. Talbot that there is no method to compel private doctors to participate in any of these activities. Dr. Harry Zirk, and Edmonton private family doctor involved in one of the city’s LPCNS, suggested that public health cultivate relationships with office staff like drug company detailers. He said that family doctors needed certain pro-active information but that public health agencies should ensure that they are able to deliver in a crisis because that’s when family doctors are certain to be engaged.

Dr. Talbot mentioned that Capital Health is looking at “business continuity” of different parts of the system. Dr. Michael Rachlis suggested that the health systems have three challenges during a pandemic or other catastrophe with hundreds or thousands of victims. The first is to provide health care to victims of the catastrophe, e.g. those stricken with influenza or injured by a hurricane. The second is to continue to provide care to patients suffering from conditions unrelated to the catastrophe, e.g. incidental myocardial infarctions. The third is to provide primary health care to persons with chronic diseases to prevent them from developing acute care problems. Margot Lettner, the meeting’s facilitator further noted that there need to be contingency plans developed for those currently receiving personal care at home because > 80% of this care is provided by informal family caregivers who are disproportionately women.

Several persons noted the potential for new information technologies to help manage crises. Dr. George Pasut, associate medical officer of health for Ontario and Michael Sharpe Director, Chronic Disease Control and Management Division Public Health Agency of Canada discussed “push” technologies such as email and fax and “pull” technologies such as websites.

Dr. Sharon MacDonald, vice president of Community Care at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority noted that the WRHA planned to use a local radio station, CJOB, to broadcast key information in the event of a public health crisis.

Chronic disease management and prevention, Saskatoon Shan Landry, Vice President Primary Health Care, Saskatoon Health Region and Dr. Johnmark Opondo

Associate Medical Officer of Health, Saskatoon Health Region

Saskatoon was the first jurisdiction in the country to regionalize funding and governance. They have further de-centralized by involving local neighbourhoods in choosing their priorities. The region’s chronic disease management priorities include diabetes, mental health, addiction, infectious diseases, tobacco control, and respiratory diseases. The inner city neighbourhood chose as their priorities diabetes, asthma, stroke, and intravenous drug use.

There were many issues identified related to prevention, treatment, and harm reduction. In Saskatoon, they have come to believe that HIV/AIDS is the quintessential chronic disease. Patients need self-management support and training, social support, treatment, addictions services, and harms reduction. Public health takes the responsibility for testing, identification, contact tracing, and patient education. The family doctor is the first point of contact for patients but the region has put together teams consisting of nurses, social workers, and addictions counsellors to help manage these patients. . The region also cooperates with other government departments such as social services.




Michael Sharpe noted that patient self-management is the key factor for chronic disease management programs. Mary-Anne Robinson said that Winnipeg is using Dr. Ed Wagner’s model for chronic disease management (see: www.improvingchroniccare.org). But, Ms. Robinson noted that while the model can lead to better quality of care, its implementation heavily depends upon policy changes such as alternate systems of remuneration for primary health care and team based practice. She asked how we can close the gap between the recommendations for care and actual performance. She suggested family physicians need to be encouraged to think about populations and public health and regional authorities can help with information technology and patient self-management programs. ‘

Many participants addressed the issue of teamwork. Shan Landry noted that it was harder than they had thought it would be to develop teamwork at the city’s new West Winds Primary Health Centre. The centre is a cooperative venture involving the region and the University of Saskatchewan’s department of family medicine. Ms. Landry said that as difficult as the process had been, it would have been impossible without alternate payment of physicians and specific extra payment for non-remunerative activities (e.g. planning, communication with regional staff, etc.). Dr. Harry Zirk agreed.

Dr. Nora McKee from the University of Saskatchewan Department of Family Medicine has been involved with the West Winds Project. She agreed that teamwork development is a challenge to family doctors. But she advised others that physician leadership was an essential factor for reform. Dr. Laura Muldoon, a family physician at the Somerset West CHC agreed that even physicians on alternate payments may have difficulty with new practice arrangements. She mentioned that effective chronic disease management requires patient self management and this may be seen as a challenge to some doctors.

Dr. Sharon Macdonald, Vice-President Community Care, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority recently spent a day with two homeless women one of whom had diabetes which required four times daily insulin injections. Despite her dire straits and addictions, this woman managed to maintain her HgbA1c at 7.4, a sign of fairly good diabetes control. Dr. Macdonald said that we need to empower patients to take control of their chronic illnesses.

Jennifer Howard, the executive director of the Winnipeg Women’s Health Centre said that her agency and other CHCs are concerned that the regional health authorities are attempting to “re-invent the wheel” in teamwork. She claimed that Canadian community health centres have an 80 year history of teamwork. Jack McCarthy, the executive director of the Ottawa Somerset West CHC, agreed with Jennifer. He noted that the Canadian Arthritis Society “Get a Grip” program moved their locus from private practitioners’ offices to CHCs because of their interdisciplinary approach to care.

Several participants commented that the concept of the team needs to be broadened. Joan Dawkins is Community Area Director for Downtown and Point Douglas for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. Her area includes the downtown core with a concentration of the city’s homeless. She noted that many of these people see their social assistance worker much more frequently than their primary health care providers. Her key partners for chronic disease management include staff at shelters, soup kitchens, and other services. Dr. Harry Zirk said that police, firefighter, and EMT staff can all be useful partners.

Richard Butler, Assistant Deputy Minister, Health Workforce Division Alberta Health and Wellness said that Alberta had found the provincial medical association to be very useful in the change process. In 2003, the provincial government, the Alberta Medical Association, and the Regional Health Authorities negotiated the so-called Trilateral Agreement. This agreement has led to a mechanism to flow funding to the Local Primary Care Networks. Mr. Butler made copies of the agreement available to the other participants.

The determinants of health and intersectoral action, Winnipeg Dr. Sharon Macdonald

Vice-President Community Care, Joan Dawkins Community Area Director, Downtown and Point Douglas, Mary-Anne Robinson, Director Primary Care, Jeanette Edwards, Director, Community Development, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority

Dr. Macdonald led the presentation about Winnipeg’s Integrated Services initiative.

The initiative was spurred by the recognition in the 1990s of a series of problems including increasing acute care and Home Care costs, duplication of service providers, the erosion of primary health care services, complaints of lack of coordination of services between sectors including education, and the difficulty of moving between sectors.

The WRHA uses the 217 City of Winnipeg planning neighbourhoods aggregated to 23 neighbourhood clusters and 12 community areas which have average populations of 50,000. The WRHA is planning an Access Centre for each community area.

The policy context for the initiative included social services reform, ongoing primary health care reform with a focus on improved access, integration of health services across acute, community and long term care within the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, and integration of community health and social services between the WRHA and the provincial Department of Family Services and Housing (FSH).

The vision developed for the integrated services initiative was:

Integrated community-based health and social services provide efficient, effective and holistic services that are person/family focused and seamless and that recognize the principles of population, social services reform and primary health care.

The definition of community access centre adopted by the initiative was that onsite services should include one or more services from each of the partners (WRHA and FSH) plus primary care services”

Joint management positions were recruited. These managers report to the local executive director of the Provincial Department of Family Services and Housing As well as their WRHA senior manager. Central services were re-structured to support decentralized service delivery and community development was encouraged. Child and Family Services will be added in the future following devolution of aboriginal services.

The core services from the WRHA provided within the access centres include home care, public health, primary care, community mental health, and seniors’ health programs while the Department of Family Services and Housing provides community living, children’s special services, vocational rehabilitation, children’s day care, housing assistance, and employment and income assistance.

The River East access centre opened in the Spring of 2004 when 180 staff from 15 separate sites moved in. A second access centre is under construction in Transcona and is anticipated to open in the summer of 2006. A third centre in Inkster community is in the planning stages. In each community consultations are held and where CHCs exist (Winnipeg has 10) the development process involves the centre.



The lessons of the Winnipeg Integrated Services Initiative included the necessity for an evolutionary approach including working with communities. Another lesson was that Access Centres are but one option for expansion of primary health care.


Shan Landry noted that other sectors are not necessarily structured to be ready for collaboration with the health sector. Further complicating matters, there are different payment relationships and collective agreements.

There was continuing discussion of team building and its challenges. Health Canada is providing financial assistance for interdisciplinary education programs for health professionals.

A question was raised about triage within multi-disciplinary centres. Jennifer Howard mentioned that the Winnipeg Women’s Health Centre uses “super receptionists” who act as intake workers.

The conversation about intake led to a detailed discussion about the use of provincial call lines to facilitate access. Marianne Stewart, Vice President of Primary Health Care for the Capital Health Authority in Edmonton said that they are increasingly using their telephone line, Health Link, to ensure that patients get to the right service at the right time. Mary-Anne Robinson suggested that the health system needed an integrated “front end”. She said that Winnipeg is currently reviewing its phone advice line with an eye to better using it to facilitate access. Ms. Robinson suggested that the call lines could be used for home care follow up. Ms. Stewart noted that Edmonton has added video technology so home care nurses can send digital images of wounds to the call centre and discuss cases with wound specialists

Dr. George Pasut, said that Telehealth Ontario is using cutting edge technology so that calls can be answered anywhere. Dr. Nick Bayliss, Chief Medical Officer of Health, Alberta Health and Wellness noted that Finland is using Australian surgeons to provide telephone on-call after hours because of the 12 hour time difference. This led to further discussion about whether it makes any difference to have local persons answering the telephone lines.

Dr. Pasut mentioned that Ontario has a “211” line which provide advice on community and social services. Provincial Telehealth operators can refer callers to these services for more local information. Dr. James Talbot and Marianne Stewart from Edmonton noted that there are close connections between their call centre nurses and the public health staff who are located in the same building. According to Ms. Stewart, the call center nurses are in constant communication with public health physicians to ascertain whether common calls sound like a disease cluster.

Joan Dawkins cautioned that vulnerable people such as homeless do not have telephones. Patrick Lapointe, executive director of the Saskatoon Community Clinic mentioned that many poor aboriginal clients lose their phone service because of large unpaid long distance bills. The community clinic has worked with Sask Tel to ensure “a phone in every home”. These special phones are restricted to local calls.

At the close of this session, Dr. Ross Findlater and Shan Landry discussed Saskatchewan’s approach to intersectoral action. The Associate and Assistant Deputy Ministers' (ADMs') Forum on Human Services was formed in the fall of 1994 to develop more holistic and integrated human services. A provincial report examining deaths of children in care precipitated the creation of the Forum. The forum was renamed in 1999 the Human Services Integration Forum. The HSIF is led by a Steering Committee of seven provincial government departments and Executive Council. Provincial level membership includes:

The objectives of the Forum are to:

There are ten Regional Intersectoral Committees (RIC's). There is a paid coordinator for each RIC to help build community capacity. The committees include representatives from various provincial and federal government departments, as well as regional health authorities, the Saskatchewan Institute for Advanced Technology, housing authorities, educational institutions, tribal councils, police, and Métis organizations.

Shan Landry co-chairs the Saskatoon regional Intersectoral committee with Paul Gautier, from the City of Saskatoon’s recreation services. She said that the provincial committee and the Saskatoon committee have greatly added to the regional authorities' capacity to engage in and sustain intersectoral action.

Health Goals and Planning, Ottawa Jack McCarthy, Executive Director,

Somerset West Community Health Centre / Maureen Murphy, Manager, Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention Division, Ottawa Public Health

In Ottawa, there are 14 community resources centres (CRCs) which developed in the 1960s and 70s. Six of these have primary health care services and are funded through the Ontario Ministry of Health Community Health Centre program. They are nneighbourhood-based with defined coterminous boundaries and cover the entire geography of Ottawa. They provide a wide range of health and social services in a style which fosters community capacity to address determinants of health. Services include pre-employment support and employment training, crisis intervention, community development and outreach. The centres have a particular focus on vulnerable populations including recent immigrants. They are governed by volunteer boards representing the CHC/CRC community. Mr. McCarthy stressed that CHCs are community organizations as well as service providers. They attempt to live their mandates to engage local citizens.

The Ottawa Public Health Department is governed by city council but mainly funded by the province which sets out mandates for its services. The Department offers a wide range of programs including child health, school health, injury prevention, nutrition, physical activity, infectious disease control, sexual health, senior health, multicultural health, cancer prevention and early detection, and food and water safety.

The CHCs and the public health department have a long history of collaboration including projects involving sexual health, smoking cessation, communicable disease control, seniors, parenting education, multicultural health, and child health.

In late 2004, the CHCs and the public health department decided to deepen their relationship. There was a mutual desire to move from sporadic problem-based planning to a comprehensive planning framework. The announcement that the Ontario government would create Local Integrated Health Networks (LHINs) also spurred the two partners to further cooperation.

There was unique cooperation at the senior levels. The CHC/CRC group was led by Jack McCarthy and Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Cushman. Dr. Cushman had practiced family medicine at Ottawa CHCs.1 a small working group began to meet. The group collated existing collaborative initiatives and reviewed key health status data. Input was sought from all CHCs/CRCs and public health programs regarding priorities. Criteria for choosing priorities were determined and two priorities were recommended -- vulnerable families with young children and chronic disease prevention. A meeting was held with 60 key people. This confirmed the various organizations’ readiness to work towards the identified priorities. Lead managers for each priority were identified to move the initiatives forward.

So far, the partners have developed draft goals for children including promoting healthy behaviours before and during pregnancy, healthy child development through parenting practices and supportive environments, and increasing breast feeding rates.



The public health department and CHCs have also cooperated on public policy development in the past. Ms. Murphy offered an example where the independence the CHCs was useful to the department of public health. The CHCs effectively lobbied city council on behalf of the department’s politically controversial harm reduction proposals.

The next steps include developing an overall management structure, determining what resources need to be brought to the table, developing a process evaluation to assess how collaboration is working, and the interface with the new Champlain LHIN. Eventually, the partners hope to utilize experience with the first two priorities to develop a comprehensive planning framework, explore partnerships with other providers, including the newly created Ontario primary health care model, Family Health Teams, and identify a full range of areas for more systematic collaboration.

At the close of the presentation Mr. McCarthy mentioned that the partnership between the public health department and the CHCs had passed a recent test with flying colours. When the Northern Ontario first nations reserve in Kasechewan was evacuated, 240 persons many of whom were sick were airlifted to Ottawa. On a weekend, the Ottawa public health department met with CHC representatives and made arrangements for each to be seen by a physician or a nurse practitioner upon arrival. Both Mr. McCarthy and Ms. Murphy stressed that such a response was only possible because of the long history of partnership.


In response to a question from Dr. David Mowat, Ms. Murphy admitted that the proposals being developed for the children’s programs require new resources which are scarce. She also said that even when so-called “soft money” is available the collaboration is hampered by a lack of “hard money” for project development and planning. Mr. McCarthy asserted that seed money for early planning and proposal writing is required to foster these kinds of innovation. Joan Dawkins noted that grants forms are becoming much more complicated as government accounting requirements become more onerous.

This led to a discussion about appropriate roles for the different players. Shan Landry said that she had understood that regionalization was based upon autonomy for local communities. However, in reality, regional authorities often function as simply arms of the provincial department of health which deliver services. She said that Saskatoon has used small community development grants to give communities voice and build capacity. Dr. Harry Zirk supported giving local communities more control of their resources and said the advantage of dealing with the region versus the provincial government is that you know where to go”.

Dr. Joel Kettner, Manitoba’s chief medical officer of health, noted that public health and primary health care must cooperate on the ground to delver service but at policy levels, public health has different partners. He suggested that public health reform requires “vertical” as well as “horizontal” integration. Maureen Murphy agreed that public health has a unique role for policy.

Dr. Nick Bayliss suggested that public health has three goals which are sometimes in conflict:

He further noted that local autonomy is a challenge and an opportunity. But he commented that SARS highlighted the importance of getting roles correct.

Jennifer Howard said that flexibility is required for innovation but she complained that government accountability requirements sometimes stifle innovation. On the other and, fee for service doctors have no accountability to the province other than seeing the patients for whom they have billed. She noted that a private doctor recently opened a multi-disciplinary PHC centre without any consultations with the province or the WRHA. However, provincial governments are blamed for problems with the system.

Dr. Zirk emphasized that provincial governments and regional authorities shouldn’t be afraid of interacting with private doctors. They are trying the best for their patients but often need assistance to provide higher quality more comprehensive care.

Most of the participants felt fee for service provided perverse incentives for better management of chronic disease. Jack McCarthy also noted that in Somerset West CHC’s walk-in clinic more than 90% of patients are dealt with by a nurse practitioner but they would be fee for service billings if they went to private doctor’s office. He said fee for service also impeded team building. Dr. Laura Muldoon said that patents needed to be educated about teamwork.

Dr. Michael Rachlis noted some of the new primary health care arrangements in the UK have considerable accountability with the flexibility of capitation funding. He said that the UK has also invested heavily in clinical governance development so family doctors can create the appropriate structures to respond to demands for accountability.

Closing remarks

Dr. David Butler-Jones closed the meeting by thanking the participants for giving their time to the workshop. He recalled his first days as a family doctor 25 years previous. At that time there was little opportunity to work cooperatively with public health. He suggested that primary health care is a public health way of thinking about primary care.

Dr. Butler-Jones said that public health and primary health care used to be housed in separate silos but that the walls had started to crumble. He noted that he sees tremendous good will across the country for collaboration but also practical challenges. He said the Agency was interested in developing pragmatic approaches to the structural barriers which had been identified at the meeting.

Lessons learned:

  1. Citizen engagement is essential for developing primary health care and public health collaboration, community capacity building, and fulfilling many public health goals.

  2. Patients and families need to be engaged in their own health care and given the resources required to maximize self-care. The health system should ensure that patients have the support they need to fulfill their roles in self-management. Patients should also be involved in program planning.

  3. Certain populations are more vulnerable than others and require particular support to attain their health potential.

  4. Contingency planning for catastrophes needs to include “business continuity” plans for primary health care for those with chronic illnesses.

  5. There are structural barriers to collaboration including different policy development structures for public health and primary health care. It is important to think about the functions and processes required and use this information to inform the building of new structures and institutions. Some areas of collaboration, like a pandemic or other crisis, require command and control responses. Others, like chronic disease management and prevention require more of a bottom-up, community development approach. In some provinces, regional authorities have facilitated connections between the health care system and public health. However, even in these provinces, family physicians are overwhelmingly in private practice and not governed nor paid by the regional authorities. This situation has created a number of barriers to communication and collaboration.

  6. Team building is crucial for effective primary health care service delivery. Teamwork requires the investment of significant new resources for education and training.

  7. Provinces and regional authorities should work with and through physician leadership in developing more organized public health and primary health care collaboration.

  8. It is important to clarify accountabilities. There need to be clear performance measures developed and applied to all PHC providers including fee for service practitioners. The accountability framework and reporting need to be transparent and should include integration and risk management.

  9. Health problems are complex and need intersectoral responses. Health problems are interconnected with a variety of other determinants of health and require comprehensive solutions. Solutions at the local level can be facilitated by senior governmental policy coordination structures.

  10. Canada needs to implement electronic health records and link these data to public health IT systems. Regional Authority and Public Health Websites could communicate with primary health care providers and the public during crises.

  11. Provincial telephone advice systems have public health potential. Although they were originally designed to keep patients with minor illnesses out of emergency departments, they show a much broader potential. Anecdotally they can be useful in alerting public health about health threats. They also could be used to provide information during emergencies.

  12. Change can be facilitated through pilot projects. The workshop demonstrated that collaborative pilot projects at the community level build cooperation and a shared view of problems and solutions.

  13. Leadership is essential at the political, administrative, and practice level.

Short-term opportunities to promote primary health care and public health collaboration

There were five opportunities cited for short-term projects which could enhance the collaboration between primary health care and public health:

  1. Develop an inventory of current collaboration between primary health care and public health. The City of Ottawa’s list could be a starting point for this research.

  2. Research models for linking public health agencies with primary health care practices, especially private family doctors.

  3. Review the successes, failure, barriers, and facilitators for interdisciplinary care in community health centres.

  4. Examine current research grants from the Institute for Health Services and Policy Research and the Canadian Health Services and Research Foundation for primary health care public health collaboration.

  5. Examine the potential public health applications of provincial telephone health advice call centres. It was felt that a small meeting might be convened to examine the opportunities in this area.

Part two: Further analysis and recommendations


  1. There is an institutional disconnection between public health and primary health care.

  2. Public health deals with prevention and requires government intersectoral policy coordination to attain its goals. Canadian political culture heavily discounts future gains and avoids central policy coordination.

  3. There is limited understanding by public and health system governors of the importance of primary health care system to overall health system performance.

  4. There are a variety of health system barriers to primary health care reform

Institutional disconnection between public health and primary health care

There is a structural disconnection between public health and primary health care policy-making. Even though many Canadian jurisdictions previously had broad definitions of primary health care consistent with the definition of the World Health Organization, in the last 10 years, the federal government and many of the provinces have narrowed their definitions to focus on family doctors and the treatment of individuals and families. Broader definitions of primary health care typically include working with communities to enhance the non-health system determinants of health.

Typically, public health and primary health care policy development are carried out in different branches of ministries of health. Usually PHC policy development is led by the branch of ministry which deals with physicians’ payment while public health has its own branch. In larger provinces with more than one ministerial assistant, like Ontario, public health and PHC policy briefs are carried by different aides. The federal government’s PHC reform policy is driven from within Health Canada while public health reform is being keyed by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Canadian political culture eschews prevention and policy coordination

The tyranny of the acute means that the health policy and resource focus in on the treatment of illness. Prevention is a lower priority. Prevention provides future benefits to faceless, statistical persons while treatment benefits identified persons now. This is a particular problem for society’s with high discount rates for future benefits. Instant gratification is not compatible with long-range prevention.

Intersectoral action and healthy public policy seem self-evident to public health practitioners. But since the Lalonde Report they have proven difficult to operationalize. To quote BC’s Dr. James Frankish, "Why, then has there been such limited progress in the operationalization of healthy public policy?"1

While there have been many success stories of intersectoral action for health, no jurisdiction has found intersectoral action as easy to implement as to describe. Many provinces established provincial councils of health in the late 1980s or early 1990s to provide advice on broad health policy matters. However, those councils were disbanded and, in general, are not considered to have been successful in facilitating intersectoral action. Saskatchewan’s Human Services Integration Forum is an exception.

Many provinces struck health goals designed to be implemented through intersectoral action but only Québec has continued to use health goals for planning. Laval University Professor, Dr. Jean-Paul Fortin notes, "Although it appears logical and is desired by many, the implementation of intersectoral action in the health field is nevertheless difficult."2

There are several barriers to intersectoral action on the determinants of health:

While health practitioners tend to assume that everyone places the same high value on health, frequently health is traded off against other perceived benefits. For example, faster speed limits lead to more accidents; more greenhouse gases provide short-term economic benefits as well as health problems.

Intersectoral action is based upon the premise that clear information will be available and that this knowledge will be a major factor in determining the ultimate policy. However, information is always somewhat ambiguous. This is particularly true for information on the health impacts of public policies. Finally, information is almost never the key factor in deciding whether a particular policy will be enacted.3 Other factors, such as the values and interests at stake and who controls the decision-making process are typically much more important.

Intersectoral action on the determinants of health requires the coordination of government policy making. However, public policies tend to be developed in policy subsystems which revolve around individual government departments. This hampers intersectoral policy-making.4 In western democracies public policy tends to be developed incrementally in a so-called 'branch' approach and not radically in a so-called 'root' approach.5 This frustrates the development and implementation of coordinated policy.

British epidemiologist, Dr. Geoffrey Rose concluded that slight changes in population risk factors or behaviours (e.g. reducing mean cholesterol level or blood pressure by 3%) have a greater impact on the overall health than major changes in these factors for only those at highest risk.6,7 However, it is at this macro level that political conflict is most pronounced.

Little understanding of the importance of primary health care system

Government health inquiries and commissions have repeatedly recommended developing stronger PHC. The Royal Commission on the future of Health Care commented regarding PHC “…no other initiative holds as much potential for improving health and sustaining our health care system.” PHC has particular potential for:

However, although the provinces have been engaged in primary health care reform for several years, the main focus for health policy remains acute care, especially the reduction of wait times for certain procedures and surgical procedures.

Internal health system barriers to primary health care reform

The collective agreements between provincial medical associations and ministries of health have presented a significant barrier to alternative payment and practice arrangements. Starting in 1991 in Ontario, most provincial medical associations and provincial ministries of health negotiated the creation of 'joint management committees' which were to provide 'co-management' of the health care system.8 Typically, these agreements establish a fixed budget for fee-for-service payments and require medical association permission to remove funds for non-fee-for-service payments.

Alberta’s Tripartite agreement mentioned earlier in this paper is an exception to this rule. And, the 2005 Ontario agreement also allowed more funding for non-fee-for-service physician payment.

Lack of labour adjustment policies are another barrier to reform. Primary health care personnel are usually not organized. Unions are understandably concerned about their members being laid off in one sector while being hired at lower pay for non-union jobs in another sector. Only Saskatchewan has a comprehensive labour adjustment policy to facilitate the workforce transition required.


The facilitators for public health and primary health care collaboration mirror the barriers.

Coordinated public health and PHC policy development

Quebec is seen as having the most coordinated public health and PHC policy development. In fact, the Quebec CHCs, (CLSCs or Centres Locaux Services Communautaire), provide both public health and primary health care services. Under the Quebec public health legislation, the CLSCs are responsible for coordinating their local community’s input into developing local public health plans, congruent with provincial and regional plans.

Regional authorities in most provinces are responsible for public health services and are increasingly responsible for PHC development. For example, under Alberta’s Tripartite agreement regional authorities are keying the development of Local Primary Care Networks. On the other hand, in Ontario, public health is not part of the newly created Local Health Integration Networks and PHC reform is being led provincially through the Central Ministry of Health Family Health Teams program. Ontario’s CHCs will be funded from the LHINs and may serve and integrative function.

In November 2005, the Ontario government announced that it would proceed with a major enhancement of the CHC program after nearly 15 years of limbo.9 The announcement referred to CHCs’ role in facilitating access especially for vulnerable groups. The announcement also highlighted their function in community capacity building which he and Community Services Minister Marilyn Chambers said could contribute to overall solutions for Toronto’s gun violence.

Coordinated government policy making

Coordination of government policy making can facilitate public health and PHC integration. For example, Quebec’s health goals have facilitated more coordinated social policy making. Saskatchewan’s Human Services Integration Forum has improved integration social policy development at the provincial and regional levels.

Institutional change in the health care system

The better linkages between public health and PHC at the operational level can facilitate more coordinated policy making. As mentioned previously, provincial physician payment policies have limited the development of more public health oriented PHC models. But this situation may be changing.

Champions and leadership

In general, politicians have not focused on prevention and PHC. In the recent Federal election, there was virtually no discussion of either topic while there was considerable debate on the public and private roles for health care and the management of wait lists for selected surgical and diagnostic procedures.

But, effective political champions can make a difference. For example, Ontario health minister George Smitherman’s leadership and commitment to prevention and PHC is widely seen as the major factor leading the resurgence of CHCs in that province, as well as other structural changes to the province’s health system.

Current policy environment

The current political environment provides both threats and opportunities for improved public health and PHC collaboration.

Canada’s fiscal situation is the best of the world’s wealthy countries. Canada has a budget surplus of over 1% of GDP compared with deficits in the other G7 nations. Assuming conservative economic growth of 2% per annum, the federal government has 10-15 billion dollars per year to invest in new spending now and would have $30 Billion within 5-7 years if revenues are not cut

Canadian governments and business leaders are still smarting from the SARS outbreak in Toronto in 2003. There is a high awareness of the dangers from pandemic influenza and there is substantial political and public support for strengthening communicable disease programs. The Public Agency of Canada greatly enhances the potential for Pan Canadian solutions to be developed.

There is a better understanding of the importance of PHC to the smooth functioning of the health system. Several provinces and regions have started meaningful PHC reform and are attempting to integrate PHC with public health services.

There are also potential threats. The tax cuts proposed by the new government would reduce the fiscal potential for new programs. Furthermore, the stated aim to reduce the Federal role in what are seen as provincial policy areas may diminish the potential to create Pan-Canadian solutions to the country’s public health problems. While Canadians nominally support prevention, the main debate about our health system features wait list management and whether the private sector should have a larger role in health care delivery and finance.


There are many examples of public health and PHC collaboration across the country. However, most have started in local communities for somewhat idiosyncratic reasons. With the focus on developing a response to pandemic influenza and other potential catastrophes, the federal government and Public Health Agency of Canada have a unique opportunity to facilitate collaboration between these sectors to enhance the health of Canadians.


  1. Develop an inventory of current collaborations between primary health care and public health

  2. Establish a mechanism to share best practices displaying public health and primary health care collaboration. This initiative could feature the Agency’s website, links with national leaders (such as those communities attending the November 2005 meeting), and future workshops and conferences.

  3. Establish a fund to promote public health and PHC collaboration through a mechanism similar to the Health Transition Fund

  4. Sponsor a think tank on primary health care’s role during catastrophes such as pandemic influenza.

  5. The Public Health Agency of Canada should support pilot programs for better communication between public health and primary health care practitioners. The immediate need is for better communicable disease control.

  6. Ensure that primary health care offices are linked with public health as electronic systems are implemented.

  7. Review the potential public health applications of provincial telephone health advice call lines. Consideration should be given to sponsoring a small think tank and discussion paper.

  8. Review current research grants from the Institute for Health Services and Policy Research and the Canadian Health Services and Research Foundation for primary health care public health collaboration.


FSH Ministry of Family Services and Housing (Manitoba)

HSIF Human Services Integration Forum (Saskatchewan)

LPCN Local Primary Care Network (Alberta)

PHC Primary Health Care

RIC Regional Intersectoral Committees (Saskatchewan)

WRHA Winnipeg Regional Health Authority

Appendix one: Participants in the Winnipeg November 3-4, 2005 Case Study Workshop on Public Health and Primary Health Care Collaboration

Dr. Nicholas Bayliss

Chief Medical Officer of Health

Public Health Division

Alberta Health and Wellness

24th flr, 10025 Jasper Ave NW

Edmonton, AB  T5J 1S6

Tel: 780-415-2809

Email: Nicolas.bayliss@gov.ab.ca

Richard Butler

Assistant deputy minister

Alberta Ministry of Health and Wellness

17th flr Telus Plaza North Tower

10025 Jasper Avenue

Edmonton AB T5J 1S6

Tel : T 780-427-1310

Email: Richard.butler@gov.ab.ca

Dr. Catherine Cook

Regional Director of Aboriginal Health Services

Winnipeg Regional Health Authority

1801 - 155 Carlton St.
Winnipeg MB  R3C 4Y2
Phone:  (204) 926-8083

Email: ccook@wrha.mb.ca and cookc@cc.umanitoba.ca

Joan Dawkins

Community Area Director, Downtown and Point Douglas

Winnipeg Regional Health Authority

1st Floor - 425 Elgin Ave

Winnipeg MB R3A 1P2

Tel: 204-940-1748

Email: jdawkins@wrha.mb.ca

Jeanette Edwards

Director, Community Development

Winnipeg Regional Health Authority

1800 - 155 Carlton Street

Winnipeg MB R3C 4Y1

Tel: 416-926-8021

Email: jedwards@wrha.mb.ca

Dr. Ross Findlater

Chief Medical Health Officer

Saskatchewan Ministry of Health

3475 Alberta Street

Regina SK S4S 6X6 

Tel: 306-787-3235  

Email: rfindlater@health.gov.sk.ca

Jennifer Howard

Executive Director

Women’s Health Clinic

419 Graham Avenue, Unit A

Winnipeg MB R3C 0M3

Tel: 204-947-2422 ext 102

Email: jhoward@womenshealthcentre.org

Dr. Joel Kettner

Chief Medical Officer of Health

Province of Manitoba
4th floor - 300 Carlton St.

Winnipeg MB  R3B 3M9

Tel: 204-788-6666

Shan Landry

Vice President Primary Health Care

Saskatoon Health Region
#300-410 22nd Street East

Saskatoon, SK S7K 5T6

Tel: 306-655-3317  

Email: shan.landry@saskatoonhealthregion.ca

Patrick Lapointe

Executive Director

Saskatoon Community Clinic

455 Second Avenue North -- Saskatoon, Saskatchewan -- S7K 2C2
Tel: 306-652-0300

Email: plapointe@communityclinic.sk.ca

Anna Ling

Multicultural Health Resource Coordinator

Sexual Education Research Centre

2nd Floor, 555 Broadway Ave.
Winnipeg, MB  R3C 0W4
Tel: (204) 982-7800

Dr. Sharon Macdonald

Vice-President Community Care

Winnipeg Regional Health Authority Winnipeg

155 Carlton Suite 1800

Winnipeg MB. R3C 4Y1

Tel: 204-926-7068

Cell: 204-795-8702

Email: smacdonald@wrha.mb.ca

Dr. Jim MacLean

Team Lead, Primary Care Reform
1075 Bay St, 9th Flr
Toronto, ON M5S 2B1

Tel: 416-325-3385  

Email: jim.maclean@moh.gov.on.ca

Donna Magnusson

Executive Director

Primary Health Care Services

Saskatchewan Ministry of Health

3475 Alberta Street

Regina SK S4S 6X6 

Tel: 306-787-0875  

Email: dmagnusson@health.gov.sk.ca

Jack McCarthy

Executive Director,

Somerset West Community Health Centre
55 Eccles Street
Ottawa ON K1R 6S3

Tel: (613) 238-8210 ext. 2324

Email: jmccarth@swchc.on.ca

Dr. Nora McKee

University of Saskatchewan

Department of Family Medicine

Tel: 306-655-6800

Email: noramckee@hotmail.com

Dr. Laura Muldoon

Somerset West Community Health Centre
55 Eccles Street
Ottawa ON K1R 6S3

Tel: (613) 238-8210

Email: lmuldoon@swchc.on.ca

Maureen Murphy

Manager, Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention Division, People Services
Public Health and Long Term Care Branch
495 Richmond Road
Ottawa, ON K2A 4A4
Tel: 613-580-6744 ext. 23608,

Marie O’Neill

Director, Primary Health Care

Manitoba Health

1068 - 300 Carlton Street

Winnipeg, MB R3B 3M9

Tel : 204-786-7176

Email: maoneill@gov.mb.ca

Dr. Johnmark Opondo

Associate Medical Officer of Health

Saskatoon Health Region

310 Idylwyld Drive North

Saskatoon, SK S7L 0Z2   

Tel: Phone: 306-655-4470 

Email: johnmark.opondo@saskatoonhealthregion.ca

Dr. George Pasut

Executive Lead, Public Health System Transformation

Public Health Division

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care

1075 Bay Street, suite 810

Toronto ON M5S 2B1

Tel: 416-314-1766

Email: george.pasut@moh.gov.on.ca

Mary-Anne Robinson

Director Primary Care

Winnipeg Regional Health Authority

155 Carlton Suite 1800

Winnipeg MB R3C 4Y1

Tel: 204-926-8010

Email: mrobinson@wrha.mb.ca

Marianne Stewart

Chief Operating Officer Primary Care Division

Capital Health Authority

500-10216, 124 Street
Edmonton, Canada, T5N 4A3
Tel: 780-401-2683

Email: mstewart@cha.ab.ca.

Dr. James Talbot

Associate Medical Officer of Health

Capital Health

#300 10216 - 124 Street

Edmonton, AB T5N 4A3

Telephone is (780) 413-7603

Email: jtalbot@cha.ab.ca

Dr. Harry Zirk

Beaumont, AB T4X 1A1

Tel: 780-450-7607

Email: hzirk@ualberta.ca

Meeting organizers

Dr. Michael Rachlis

13 Langley Avenue

Toronto ON M4K 1B4

Tel: 416-466-0093

Email: michaelrachlis@rogers.com

Margot Lettner

10 Bingham Avenue

Toronto, Ontario

M4E 3P9

Tel: 416-908-5158

Email: ml.wasabi@rogers.com

Public Health Agency of Canada

Dr. David Butler-Jones

Dr. David Mowat

Michael Sharpe

Health Canada

Louise Rosborough


1Dr. Cushman is now the executive director of the Ottawa area Champlain Local Health Integration Network

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9McGuinty Government Expanding Community Health Centres. Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care press release. November 10, 2006.