Disruption as opportunity: Impacts of an organizational health equity intervention in primary care clinics




Browne, Annette J.
Varcoe, Colleen
Ford-Gilboe, Marilyn
Wathen, C. Nadine
Smye, Victoria
Jackson, Beth E.
Wallace, Bruce
Pauly, Bernie
Herbert, Carol P.
Lavoie, Josée G.

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International Journal for Equity in Health


Background The health care sector has a significant role to play in fostering equity in the context of widening global social and health inequities. The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the process and impacts of implementing an organizational-level health equity intervention aimed at enhancing capacity to provide equity-oriented health care. Methods The theoretically-informed and evidence-based intervention known as ‘EQUIP’ included educational components for staff, and the integration of three key dimensions of equity-oriented care: cultural safety, trauma- and violence-informed care, and tailoring to context. The intervention was implemented at four Canadian primary health care clinics committed to serving marginalized populations including people living in poverty, those facing homelessness, and people living with high levels of trauma, including Indigenous peoples, recent immigrants and refugees. A mixed methods design was used to examine the impacts of the intervention on the clinics’ organizational processes and priorities, and on staff. Results Engagement with the EQUIP intervention prompted increased awareness and confidence related to equity-oriented health care among staff. Importantly, the EQUIP intervention surfaced tensions that mirrored those in the wider community, including those related to racism, the impacts of violence and trauma, and substance use issues. Surfacing these tensions was disruptive but led to focused organizational strategies, for example: working to address structural and interpersonal racism; improving waiting room environments; and changing organizational policies and practices to support harm reduction. The impact of the intervention was enhanced by involving staff from all job categories, developing narratives about the socio-historical context of the communities and populations served, and feeding data back to the clinics about key health issues in the patient population (e.g., levels of depression, trauma symptoms, and chronic pain). However, in line with critiques of complex interventions, EQUIP may not have been maximally disruptive. Organizational characteristics (e.g., funding and leadership) and characteristics of intervention delivery (e.g., timeframe and who delivered the intervention components) shaped the process and impact. Conclusions This analysis suggests that organizations should anticipate and plan for various types of disruptions, while maximizing opportunities for ownership of the intervention by those within the organization. Our findings further suggest that equity-oriented interventions be paced for intense delivery over a relatively short time frame, be evaluated, particularly with data that can be made available on an ongoing basis, and explicitly include a harm reduction lens.



Health equity, Health services research, Trauma informed care, Trauma- and violence-informed care, Structural violence, Attitude of health personnel, Harm reduction, Primary care, Vulnerable populations, Indigenous populations, Health care disparities, Health services accessibility


Browne, A. J., Varcoe, C., Ford-Gilboe, M., Wathen, C. N., Wallace, B., … Blanchet Garneau, A. (2020). Disruption as opportunity: Impacts of an organizational health equity intervention in primary care clinics. International Journal for Equity in Health, 17(154), 1- 16. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12939-018-0820-2.