When Sharon Pike was involved in a car accident a few years ago, she needed a chiropractor — and discovered that reaching one was easier than she thought. “I started going to see Dr. Christopher Morgan at TAIBU Community Health Centre in 2016,” says Pike, a Toronto medical technician who sustained whiplash and other injuries in the collision. “He has supported my recovery and showed me daily routines I could use, and this has improved my overall health and energy level. I think one-stop shopping for health care is a good idea.”
Chiropractors are regulated health professionals who provide diagnosis, treatment and preventive care for conditions related to the spine, pelvis, tendons and joints. Conditions chiropractors treat include back pain, neck pain, strains and sprains, arthritis, work and sports injuries, and more.
TAIBU, a community health centre located in Toronto’s Malvern neighbourhood, is at the leading edge of a movement toward making services such as chiropractic care more accessible, especially for people where income or lack of insurance is a financial barrier.
TAIBU is a Kiswahili word used by well-wishers in East Africa to say, “Be in good health.” The community health centre, established in 2008, is an example of how low back pain programs can make chiropractic care accessible for people who don’t have coverage and can’t afford to pay for care.
While the majority of its patients come from the Black community from across the Greater Toronto Area, the community health centre is accessible to everyone in the Malvern neighbourhood, says Liben Gebremikael, TAIBU’s executive director. The centre added chiropractic service five years ago. “Over the years we have served more than 12,000 clients. Right now we are serving about 8,000 people," Gebremikael says.
Including chiropractic in the range of services helps ensure that seniors, those with lower incomes and those receiving social assistance can get treatment and care they wouldn’t otherwise be able to access. The community health centre, and other organizations across Ontario, get help from Ontario’s Primary Care Low Back Pain Program and other provincially funded programs.
While chiropractic is included in most extended health care plans, it was de-listed from OHIP in 2004. As a result, the cost of care for muscle and joint problems, like low back pain, is usually borne by patients directly through out of pocket payments or extended health care coverage. This creates a financial barrier for people to access care, especially for patients of lower incomes or without extended health care coverage.
“A lot of people I see have had little or no prior experience with chiropractic care,” says Dr. Morgan. “Typically, when I ask patients how long they’ve lived with pain, I hear that it’s been years. And when I ask what treatment they’ve had, in many cases it’s been prescription medication or over-the-counter drugs. They rarely have had any of the chiropractic or physiotherapy treatments that could help,” he says. “If patients haven’t had access to treatment, often by the time I see them they have other problems, in their shoulders, with hypertension, you name it.”
He works at TAIBU with doctors, nurse practitioners, physiotherapists, dietitians and other medical experts, who are all available to patients under one roof. “The interdisciplinary component is important,” Dr. Morgan says. “In getting to know patients, you often find out they have other issues, in housing, in relationships and so on. The nice thing about being in a setting like this is that I can just cross the hall and speak with a social worker, a physician or a nurse practitioner. It’s wraparound support.”
Typically, when I ask patients how long they’ve lived with pain, I hear that it’s been years— Dr. Christopher Morgan, Chiropractor, TAIBU Community Health Centre
Denah Smith, a nurse practitioner at TAIBU, says this holistic, comprehensive approach to health care is critical. “About 40 per cent of the patients I see suffer from some sort of musculoskeletal strain, stress or injury,” says Smith. “So it’s great to have Dr. Morgan here for us because he can address these kinds of problems with chiropractic care.”
Although still recovering, Sharon Pike is clear about the importance of TAIBU and Dr. Morgan in her healing journey. “In addition to seeing Dr. Morgan for treatment twice a month, I’ve been going to his workshops. He showed me how to sit up properly, how to get up, how to get out of bed the right way. He got me back on track.”
While Dr. Morgan is on staff at TAIBU, other clinics in Ontario benefit from chiropractors who volunteer their time. “We split our hours here,” says Dr. Douglas Cameron, who works with Dr. Cam Potter and Dr. Amy Brown as a volunteer at Langs Community Health Centre in Cambridge, Ont. “The people we serve tend to be of low income, unemployed, without benefits, immigrants, or people who can’t access care otherwise. People come to us and simply say that they can’t afford care and can we do something — and, of course, we do.”
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