About Community Health Centres


Canada’s first Community Health Centres (CHC), Mount Carmel Clinic, was established in Winnipeg in 1926. CHCs are often known by different names across Canada, but they all have several essential attributes. CHCs are all multi-sector healthcare and social services organizations. They deliver integrated, people-centred services and programs that reflect the needs and priorities of the diverse communities they serve. Numerous federal and provincial studies have recommended expanding access to CHCs as a cost-effective way to improve health and access to appropriate care and support for Canadians.

By definition (updated national definition, 2016), a Community Health Centre is any not-for-profit organization, co-operative, or government agency which adheres to all five of the following domains:


1. Provides Team-Based, Interprofessional Primary Care

In contrast to solo practitioner models, Community Health Centres offer high-quality primary care through a collaborative team approach. Social workers, family physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, dietitians, chiropodists, dental hygienists, therapists and other clinicians provide services in a team environment, based on patient needs.

2. Integrates services in primary care, health promotion and community wellbeing

Community Health Centres integrate team-based primary care with health promotion programs, illness prevention programs and community health initiatives, in keeping with the World Health Organization’s definition of primary health care.

3. Is Community-Centred

Factors affecting health and healthcare vary from community to community. That’s why CHCs focus on the most appropriate services and programs for the local community they serve — whether that means a geographical catchment or a community of individuals with common characteristics. CHCs engage members of the community in helping to identify priorities and strategies for services. This includes community needs assessments; client surveys; community advisory groups; and in many instances, a volunteer Board of Directors comprised of community members.

4. Actively Addresses Social Determinants of Health

As part of their integrated, comprehensive approach, CHCs support individuals, families and communities to achieve health by actively addressing “social determinants of health” such as poverty, access to shelter/housing, education, language barriers and other factors that have a direct impact on health, including access to appropriate healthcare services. In this way, CHCs help tackle the root causes of illness, working from an “upstream” approach to prevent illness and progression of illness.

5. Demonstrates Commitment to Health Equity and Social Justice

CHCs recognize that many differences in health status among segments of the population are socially and institutionally structured. As such, these differences are avoidable and unfair. CHCs work to eliminate these health inequities. CHCs are also committed to social justice, meaning the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth. CHCs advocate for these principles to be embedded within the institutions of society such as taxation, social insurance, public healthcare, public schooling, public services, labour law, and the regulation of markets. 

Evidence and Impact

Research from many jurisdictions demonstrates that Community Health Centres provide effective and cost-effective care, achieving important outcomes in improving health and reducing health system costs.


Read the evidence on CHCs and calls to invest in CHCs across Canada.

Read why Ontario doubled its CHC network in 2005.

Here are just a few examples of CHCs in action…

The Alex CHC Mobile Health Program (Calgary, AB)


CHCs: Facts and Figures


In 2013, the first-ever Canadian Community Health Centres Survey invited CHCs from across Canada to provide input regarding their scope of operations, services, programs and client populations. Survey responses were received from over 200 CHCs across all 13 provinces and territories. The 2016 CHCs Survey adds further depth to our understanding of Canada’s CHCs by presenting new findings on the multi-sector nature of CHCs as well as the operational and infrastructure pressures CHCs are facing across the country. 


Canada’s CHCs: Flying Together