Urban Equity blogs

Culturally Appropriate Health Hubs: A Path to Health Equity and Social Inclusion

8 January 2024 by André Darmanin0
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Establishing culturally appropriate health hubs is pivotal in building inclusive cities. As cities become global spaces of multiculturalism and socio-economic backgrounds, ensuring that city planning and development are centred on inclusivity becomes incumbent.

As an essential component of urban development, healthcare necessitates a design that reflects and respects its diverse population’s various cultures, languages, and histories. The significance of acknowledging this diversity transcends aesthetics and directly impacts the quality and accessibility of healthcare services. Consequently, inadequate consideration for a city’s diverse makeup manifests as social exclusion, health disparities, and inequalities. To truly unlock the potential of healthcare as a catalyst for social inclusion, it is crucial to explore and evaluate the myriad ways in which healthcare systems can either build bridges or erect barriers.

Inclusive healthcare systems are characterized by comprehensively understanding their constituents’ unique needs and backgrounds. They endeavour to create spaces where patients from all walks of life feel valued and supported, both emotionally and medically. Such systems recognize that health is multifaceted, encompassing physiological well-being and social, mental, and emotional dimensions. They implement policies and practices designed to effectively serve and empower marginalized populations, ultimately cultivating more equitable health outcomes for all.

Conversely, healthcare systems that fail to incorporate a culturally sensitive and responsive approach risk perpetuating and even exacerbating health disparities. In these instances, patients from Global Majority and marginalized communities that may experience barriers to accessing care or feel alienated due to inadequate representation and lack of cultural understanding by healthcare providers. Rather than promoting inclusivity and fostering a sense of belonging, such systems inadvertently marginalize those they seek to serve, further entrenching societal divisions and disparities.

The notion of healthcare as a gateway to social inclusion, promoting comprehensive models of care rooted in cultural awareness and responsiveness can dismantle barriers to access and improving health outcomes for marginalized populations.

The conversation surrounding the design and implementation of genuinely inclusive healthcare systems is crucial, with ramifications reverberating across communities and cities. An understanding of the intersectionality between healthcare and social inclusion has the power to bring about fundamental change, enabling cities to build healthier, more equitable futures for all citizens. By placing human stories, values, and dignity at the heart of healthcare design, we can turn the doors of healthcare systems into gateways, welcoming all to experience the benefits of genuinely accessible and inclusive care.

Understanding Culturally Appropriate Health Hubs

Let’s begin by understanding the concept of culturally appropriate health hubs. Rooted in the precepts of inclusivity, equity, and sustainability, this concept connects urban design and health planning paradigms. According to  Helen Pineo healthy urbanism requires the participation of all society members in the design and planning processes. This ensures that urban environments and their respective health services are not just for the advantaged or majority but are fashioned to include and cater to everyone, irrespective of their cultural or socio-economic backgrounds.

Culturally appropriate health hubs are healthcare facilities that deliver comprehensive, integrated primary care and social services. They are engineered to recognize, respect, and incorporate their communities’ cultural identities, traditions, and languages, thus promoting total health and reinforcing social inclusion.

In this context, culturally appropriate health hubs contribute to a city’s inclusivity in multiple ways:

Cultural Sensitivity: They accommodate diverse cultural backgrounds, beliefs, and languages, promoting a sense of belonging and acceptance. This sensitivity motivates healthcare utilization, leading to improved health outcomes.

Health Equity: They strive to reduce healthcare disparities by addressing social determinants of health specific to minority communities. By doing so, they contribute to health equity, a fundamental attribute of inclusive cities.

Resource Optimization: Culturally appropriate hubs efficiently use city resources by offering comprehensive, integrated services in one location. This reduces systemic inefficiencies and gaps in service delivery often encountered by minority groups.

Community Empowerment: Through inclusive services and policy-making, these hubs empower ethnically diverse communities to participate actively in their health journeys. This fosters community resilience and strengthens social cohesion.

Insights from Case Studies

To better understand the potential impact of these hubs, let’s discuss two intriguing examples -the HSC Vision Group study (which Urban Equity Consulting Services was involved with) and the Integrated Primary Care and Social Services Hub for the Black, African, and Caribbean (BAC) communities in Peel Region; and the Québec Native Friendship Centre Movement’s vision of health

The proposed model, announced by the Province of Ontario in Summer 2023 for Roots Community Services on behalf of the BAC community, demonstrated a person-centred, team-based approach. It aimed to provide culturally specific and sensitive care for community members, with service navigation support to guide them through available resources. Recognizing that there was a mammoth need for enhanced primary care and social services for the BAC communities, this initiative sought to address the systemic racism in healthcare, making health services more accessible and tailored to the unique needs of the BAC demographic.

Delving deeper into the healthcare model proposed by Roots Community Services for the Black, African, and Caribbean (BAC) communities uncovers a layered and meticulously designed framework. At its core, it leverages a team-based approach that serves its clients in an inherently person-centred manner. By offering culturally specific and sensitive care that acknowledges and celebrates diverse identities, this model provides more than just medical services; it provides a form of healthcare rooted in cultural familiarity and understanding.

The health journey can often be complex, especially when navigating a labyrinth of services or striving to understand terminologies alien to one’s vocabulary. Roots Community Services has intelligently integrated a service navigation feature to address this, providing a roadmap that helps community members find and utilize resources matching their specific needs.

This is not by chance; this holistic model has been articulated in response to an immense need for a radical change in primary care and social services for the BAC communities. With systemic racism permeating even healthcare, there has been a longstanding void of services that cater specifically to the unique needs of these communities. Thus, this initiative serves as a step towards bridging the longstanding health gap, and by being accessible and appropriate, it lends itself to being a significant tool promoting social inclusion.

Quebec Native Friendship Centre Movement, on the other hand, represented an Indigenous health model rooted in a holistic conception of wellness, which sought a balance between a person’s physical, emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions. Understanding that health occurs when all life aspects are in harmony, their movement underlines the importance of including cultural knowledge, tradition, and understanding in healthcare.

Distilling the principles of the Quebec Native Friendship Centre Movement, we find an Indigenous health model where wellness is not confined to physical well-being. Instead, it expands to encapsulate a holistic view that synergizes a person’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual dimensions. This understanding seeds the idea that optimum health results from the harmonious function of all life aspects – similar to the First Nations Perspective on Health and Wellness.

Image courtesy of First Nations University https://www.fnha.ca/wellness/wellness-for-first-nations/first-nations-perspective-on-health-and-wellness

The movement signifies an understanding that health cannot be disentangled from a cultural context. It emphasizes the importance of enveloping Indigenous cultural knowledge, tradition, and understanding in the approach to healthcare. This weaving of culture into healthcare demystifies the health process. It fosters a sense of belongingness, underscoring the integral role of incorporating Indigenous expertise and know-how into healthcare.

Concluding Thoughts

In numerous ways, the healthcare models of both Roots Community Services and the Quebec Native Friendship Centre Movement significantly contribute to social inclusion. By designing services that are aware of and sensitive to their target communities’ cultural identities, they foster an environment of acceptance. They demystify the path to health services for these communities, thus promoting usage and leading to better health outcomes.

As these case studies signify, culturally appropriate health hubs have the potential to bring about a paradigm shift in healthcare, addressing systemic imbalances and disparities and creating a more inclusive health landscape. These hubs can serve as centres of excellence in their communities, setting new precedents, informing policy changes for broader implementation, and bringing cultural and socioeconomic considerations to the forefront of healthcare.

But perhaps the most profound contribution of these models stems from their foundation. By acknowledging the need for culturally specific services and committing to provide them, these initiatives are partaking in a larger narrative of inclusion and equity. They deliver health services, drive social change, and foster a sense of community belongingness. Now, that’s transformative healthcare.

However, realizing this transformation requires stakeholders’ collaborative efforts, including urban planners, health policymakers, architects, community organizations, and communities. We must listen, learn from these communities, and include their voice in our healthcare models.

Call to Action

As Urban Equity Consulting Services, we strive to bridge the gap between urban design, planning processes and the integral focus on equitable health solutions. Our expert team promotes initiatives prioritizing inclusivity, equity, and diversity to build healthier, more equitable communities.

Whether you represent a governmental body, a healthcare organization, or a community initiative, our team is committed to working with you toward creating effective, culturally appropriate health hubs, fostering health equity and promoting social inclusion. Connect with us today and pave the path to healthier, more inclusive communities.


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