By TOM GODFREY
Toronto public health officials have launched a pilot project to collect race-based data from clients for use in helping to better serve the minority and marginalized communities.
The Board of Health in November 2013 approved a Racialization and Health Inequities in Toronto report, that found members of racialized groups experience poorer health outcomes compared to other residents.
The Board said greater understanding of racialization and health inequities in Toronto is important since more than half of its residents are born outside Canada.
An update on the report was presented at a meeting of the Board of Health at City Hall last week. It will be considered by City Council in late August.
“Experiences of racial discrimination contribute to poor health outcomes,” the report warned, adding researchers could not provide a complete analysis of health disparities since race-based data is not routinely collected in Canada.
“Producing the report underscored the larger issue of the lack of consistent and reliable socio-demographic data in Canada,” said health officials.
The report said Toronto Public Health (TPH) officials have been investigating the best methods for collecting client data.
“The data that TPH collects will be stripped of identifying information,” officials stressed, adding the information will only be used to address health disparities between communities.
An “evidence-base data collection tool” has been adopted by the Toronto Central Location Health Integration Network (TCLHIN), for use in its 18 hospitals and 17 community health centers, the document said.
“Demographic variables such as race, sexual orientation and income have not typically been collected in Canadian health care settings,” the report said. “Socio-demographic data allows us to tackle these health inequities by planning the right interventions to address them.”
The little amount of demographic data that exists comes from Statistics Canada, the Canadian Community Health Survey, or small community and health based organizations.
In the U.S., the report said, government-mandated data collection on race, ethnicity, preferred language and disability has been in place for decades.
“As a result, American decision makers have solid information from which to set policies and programs,” it said.
The TPH plans to collect data from clients that can include their age, postal code, immigration, family and housing status.
“The integration process will be phased in to ensure existing databases, client tracking systems and business processes are aligned for effective and accurate collection of socio-demographic data,” the report said.
The first to incorporate the data was the Toronto Community Health Information System (TCHIS), an electronic customer management system used to coordinate service requests and delivery to individuals, families and organizations.
It is used by more than 750 TPH staff in programs including smoking cessation, food skills, cancer and diabetes prevention, parenting, breastfeeding and sexual health promotion.
“A unified Toronto approach to collecting socio-demographic data has the potential to generate a wealth of usable data and information from which to plan and deliver an integrated and coordinated strategy to reduce health inequities,” the report said.
Some public health units from Peel Region and Vancouver have been in contact with the TPH for information on the pilot.
TPH has been collecting some race-base data since 2013, with an Access and Service Satisfaction Survey that found among those who reported using its services, 60 per cent identified as White and 35 per cent as being of Indigenous, Aboriginal or racialized communities.
“It is not possible to determine which of TPH’s clients are racialized, what portion of our budget supports services to racialized people, and whether TPH resources are equitably distributed,” the report said.
The collection of race-based data has always been controversial in Toronto.
The Toronto Police Service came under intense fire in 1989 when then Inspector; former Chief, now MP, Julian Fantino, told a North York race relations committee that Blacks accounted for most crime in the Jane-Finch area but were only a fraction of the population.