For the June-July issue of IMAGE, I interviewed the outgoing Executive Director of the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, David Gibson. The new ED, Robin McAndrew, officially took over on August 28 and immediately granted me time to discuss aspirations for this new leadership phase of the Centre.
Now into year 28 as an employee of the SHCHC, McAndrew started out by working in community development and health and safety. She later moved into management, first as Director of Community Development and Health Promotion, then as Director of a newly created Client Access Team, managing overall social services. She next served on secondment to a sister agency as Director of Health Services before finally returning to SHCHC as Director of Addictions and Mental Health.
McAndrew believes that all of this experience provides a good understanding not only of the span of the Centre’s programs, but also of the gaps and potential for growth.
“It’s a natural way to complete my career, seeing it all come together,” said McAndrew. “I am really motivated by the opportunity to have an impact at the strategic level, because the operations need to inform the strategic considerations.”
The board of the SHCHC is currently in the midst of its strategic planning exercise, so it was premature to talk about future priorities of the Centre, but McAndrew certainly echoed the main issues raised by her predecessor, Gibson: pandemic recovery, toxic drug supply, lack of affordable housing and poverty, childhood trauma, lack of access to family physicians, and a poorly resourced mental health system.
“We haven’t healed [from the pandemic] as a society,” stated McAndrew. “What we are seeing on the streets now is the result of three years of limited access to housing and social services and social disruption.”
An unfortunate impact of the pandemic is that social services seemed closed off to outsiders. McAndrew is very grateful that community members have started to reach out, even if it is in anger.
As a resident of a central Ottawa neighbourhood, McAndrew can relate to the concerns and frustrations of Sandy Hill residents. McAndrew was moved during community conversations this past spring, which were characterized by a strong shared compassion and understanding of the safety and trauma issues and a strong expression that everyone belongs.
“How moved I am by the compassion and understanding of our neighbours and their love for other neighbours—that is a good platform to start from,” said McAndrew.
The work ahead is challenging, but that’s precisely what drives McAndrew, along with much hope and optimism. The new ED wants to create an environment where the entire SHCHC staff can continue to be driven by their mission and commitment. While so often we focus on what is broken, McAndrew would like us all to also remember all the good being done.
For example, while the number of overdose deaths in Ottawa is certainly still staggering, the staff at the Centre contributed to 800 overdose reversals last year.
“That is hope that the staff can really lean into,” McAndrew explained, “and supervised injection is only one of the many health and wellbeing services we offer.”
A promising initiative that the Centre is supporting is a newly formed, still to be named, community-led committee consisting of residents, service users, service providers, local businesses and other community stakeholders, all working together to find solutions for various problems.
The SHCHC Board may still be working on an official strategic plan, but this new executive director’s priorities were clear: to look at new ways of working together, creating new partnerships and opportunities to contribute to positive change. Throughout our discussion, McAndrew emphasized working with all partners from a place of compassion and commonality.
“We’re always excited to talk to people,” said McAndrew.
For more information about SHCHC programs and services, please visit the website at www.sandyhillchc.on.ca. To reach out to the SHCHC directly, use the link on the website or