A major focus of health system reform in Canada has been the regionalization of health services administration. With a goal of bringing decision-making closer to the community, there has been a commitment to public participation in planning by some health authorities. Women, however, often feel that their participation is minimal or their needs are not addressed. During regionalization of the Alberta health system, the Calgary Health Region (CHR) negotiated an agreement with the Salvation Army to provide women's health services through the Grace Women's Health Centre, a major part of the region's women's health program. We present a case study exploring the process and final agreement and the impact of this agreement on women's participation in health policy development. The historical context and the nature and impact of the agreement are described and several participation strategies that occurred within the partnership are discussed. The development of a formal partnership agreement, a governance model, was a success for public participation in this case; however, the greatest success for women was maintenance of a political space in which women's health as a priority could be discussed in a context where the forces against gender equity talk are strong.
This article focuses on the framing of women's health services in the context of restructuring dictated by health system regionalization. By examining the archives of a local newspaper and the minutes and documents of one of the key organizations involved in restructuring after regionalization, it was possible to examine the public discourse of the time and subsequently the journalists' and the readerships' understandings of women's health. The evidence suggests that the Salvation Army was instrumental in setting the tone that was taken by the media in framing the issues around the closure and move of its Grace Women's Health Centre. While the Calgary Health Region was successful in bringing the Grace under its mandate and organizational control, it was the Salvation Army, with its highly visible and powerful fundraising arm and its advocacy for holistic women's health that caught the public's attention. The internal discourse tracked some of the emerging issues, known only to those involved at managerial levels within the health system, but the public discourse kept women centered in decisions regarding the partnership. Women from many constituencies must continue to participate in the public policy realm to ensure that women's health remains an issue in health reform.