3 min

The little agency that grew

Bruce House branches out to provincial leadership role

After more than two decades of providing compassionate care and support for those affected by HIV/AIDS, the board and staff at Bruce House are beginning to be seen in a new light as advocates and leaders.

Recently, the supportive housing service provider was appointed by Ontario’s Ministry Of Health to serve as the administrative lead for a local community planning project that seeks to develop a comprehensive, city-wide HIV/AIDS service delivery plan.

“The community group’s main mandate would be to see if enough people are around the table who can contribute to the HIV/AIDS issues, problems and concerns of the Ottawa area,” explains Jay Koornstra, Bruce House’s executive director.

According to Koornstra, the project’s focus is on formulating a strategic plan that would “take inventory” of the current state of HIV/AIDS service delivery in Ottawa, as well as identify who “may be best poised or suited to help delivery of those support services, educational services – anything to do with HIV and AIDS.”

Local planning groups, made up of organizations that contribute to HIV-related programs and services, have already been established in some 15 regions in Ontario. The Ottawa group has hired a local planner to assist with the process.

“This would go beyond the parameters of looking at the AIDS service organizations [already] around the table, which the Ottawa-Carleton Council On AIDS has successfully done for a long time,” says Koornstra. “But should we be having other people [at the table], where HIV/AIDS crosses organization responsibilities or roles, so HIV/AIDS knowledge, awareness, services, questions and concerns can be brought to one local community planning group.”

He adds this might include, for example, such groups as the Canadian Mental Health Association and Hemophilia Ontario.

“Basically, the end product is to look at Ottawa as a whole, not Ottawa in bits and pieces, to focus on HIV/AIDS as the driving issue and not the organizations [themselves],” says Koornstra. “The question translates, in my mind, as this is what Ottawa needs to get on top of the HIV/AIDS issues and problems and concerns in Ottawa. And it doesn’t matter how that’s achieved, just as long as it is achieved.”

In addition to its involvement with the community planning group, Bruce House is also one of a handful of Ontario agencies that helped to develop a successful funding proposal for the first research project to investigate the housing needs of people living with HIV/AIDS in Ontario.

“Every time you open up a document specific to HIV/AIDS, or any health-related issue, always at the top of the list is one of the health determinates: housing,” says Koornstra. “But you know, housing for people living with HIV/AIDS is not as simple as just a roof over their head. So we want to know exactly what those needs are and how does the cyclical nature of the disease impact on housing.”

Koornstra is hopeful the research project – funded in part by the Ontario HIV/AIDS Treatment Network – will provide service agencies with “the hard-core information to not only know what we are supposed to be doing, but the proof to others that this is what we need to accomplish this.”

He adds the project should be completed in about a year and a half.

“We’re proud to be part of the group that initially began looking at this project and then to have it turn into a funded research project,” says Koornstra.

As well, the Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange has invited Bruce House to be one of six agencies from across Canada to participate in a pilot project funded by Health Canada.

Koornstra says the project’s aim is to demonstrate the need for and increase the capacity of AIDS service organizations in Canada to incorporate treatment information in all programs and services, including prevention and education.

“It’s important to recognize that with certain health issues like HIV and AIDS, you cannot separate prevention from support and services – you can’t chop things up into tiny pieces like they have no relevance to one another,” he says. “It is extremely important that they be integrated into providing the proper services.”

And while Koornstra says his organization will continue to focus on improving the local care it provides at its Ottawa housing facility, it is clear that Bruce House’s reputation is growing.

“We’re the little agency that grew,” he says.