Working groups are seeds for a healthier healthcare infrastructure

We often talk about “an idea whose time has come”, but have you ever wondered how we can be sure that its time has really come? I have and here’s what I concluded: its time has come when it helps us see new kinds of answers to the urgent problems we’ve long been stuck in.

In this context I see working groups as places where new, workable and better practices to solve old problems can be developed collaboratively. Einstein’s insight that problems cannot be solved on the level of thinking which created them clearly justifies the need for working groups as laboratories where new ways of doing things can be tried out and continuously improved in a collaborative way.

As a healthcare professional who is convinced that the future of health care will need an integrated and systemic approach, I have been searching out new thinking about healthcare within the Global Occupy movement. It is within the US occupy movement that I found Healthcare working groups to be more numerous and more active than anywhere else.  I am wondering whether this is because the public healthcare provision in the US is so much worse for so many more people than for example in the UK which still has the NHS .

In the US many Healthcare working groups as well as various associated online platforms that are not necessarily accountable to GAs have formed where medical academics, researchers, health IT geeks, health professionals and health care users meet regularly both online and offline. They share their skills, knowledge, experiences, insights, concerns and hopes and thus nurture the emergence of a new infrastructure fit for the future where people and the planet matter. The Occupy movement is an inspiration for many of them, and out of that inspiration Occupy Healthcare was born.

What excited me most was this statement by Occupy Health : ”Health is rooted in communities: in sidewalks and parks, in access to healthy food and adequate housing, in clean air and safe neighbourhoods.” Occupy Health in Boston  works together with another working group  called ‘Health Justice for All’   which looks beyond occupying healthcare. It sees communities as the real source of health creation. ‘Health Justice for All’  brings together a diversity of skill sets and services to provide care to Occupiers at the Health Tent, on Occupy Boston marches and rallies.  They embrace and are composed of volunteers with training in first aid, EMS, hospital and clinic medicine, complementary therapies (massage, reiki, acupuncture, etc), mental healthcare, social work, and public health.

Their mission statement expresses the belief that health is a human right and that systemic injustices, the pursuit of profits over people, and the accumulation of wealth by the few all harm the health of our communities. They seek to mobilize, educate, inspire and act in solidarity in ways that lead to greater health justice.

Their strategy to reach their goal includes 3 keywords: 1. Educate to create awareness about people and relationships being the most valuable resource,. 2. Agitate through applying tactics and the philosophy of Direct Action.  3. Organize by creating new platforms to encourage new relationships and to give voice to existing good practices and models.

Occupy Healthcare inspired the creation of a map which shows where health care working groups are active across the US and it encourages the recording of success stories. Healthcare providers can play just as important a role in prevention and promotion as they do in treatment, and places like the Codman Square Health Center  make that crystal clear. A community health centre in one of the most impoverished areas of Boston, the Center provides a range of public health and community services ranging from computer classes and financial help to fitness opportunities and hands-on cooking classes, not to mention youth services, civic engagement initiatives, and a close linkage with the Codman Square Academy charter school.


Occupy Healthcare has also developed a very useful and inspiring online platform which discusses how to involve the patient in organisational decision making. When the voices of patients, family members and community members are heard it can help an organisation (be it a hospital, a health system, clinic or long term care facility) better meet the needs of those it serves. Occupy Healthcare also stresses the importance of relationship building.  “When engaged, and a relationship is formed, both the provider and the patient better see the others needs…Different perspectives are taken and new alliances possibly formed”

Other active groups include Healthcare for the 99% and Occupy Town Square Healthcare Speak-Out 

As I reflect on the harvest from the different platforms it seems that Occupy Health working groups are making the case for a health commons 

According to David Bollier ” the Health Commons includes both technological solutions to health problems (pills, treatments and expert driven interventions) delivered by scientists and drug companies as well as the social dimensions of health and well-being. Besides better, faster and cheaper research,  a health commons will need to reintegrate human beings into communities of meaning and support.”

Health commons resources would include knowledge related to health accumulated throughout history, land to grow healthy food and healing plants for the community, online platforms, community hubs, hospitals etc

Out of the following four simple principles which according to Jay Walljasper lie at the heart of the commons and which have been practiced by humans for millennia, the 2nd and 3rd principle seem particularly relevant for the health commons

  1. serving the common good;
  2. ensuring equitable use of what belongs to us all;
  3. promoting sustainable stewardship so that coming generations are not cheated and imperiled;
  4. creating practical ways for people to participate in decisions shaping their future.

These principles foster a spirit of cooperation that results in commons-based solutions to major problems. New networks dedicated to protecting and expanding the commons are popping up all over— an upsurge that deserves to be supported and strengthened.

Health care is an area where a shift in this direction has already started in different places. How could we connect existing activities and projects?  How can we strengthen and amplify innovative practices for everyone which are  fit for the future? How about Occupy working groups starting a Health Commons?

Tags: health commons, health justice, occupy healthcare

Categories: Commons, Local Communities, Working Groups


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2 Comments on “Working groups are seeds for a healthier healthcare infrastructure”

  1. Reply
    February 15, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    Recently there has also been a gathering of AoH-trained folks, all working within Health Care – mostly US. You can read some harvest on the blog of one of the hosting team there, Kathy Jourdain.

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