SPHERU engages in population health research – the study of social factors contributing to the well-being of various groups within the population.

Welcome to SPHERU

The Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit is a bi-university health research unit based at the Universities of Regina and Saskatchewan. Since 1999, SPHERU has established itself as a leader in cutting edge population health research that not only looks at what and the why of health inequities -– but also how to address these and take action.

What’s Happening at SPHERU

SPHERU part of major funding announcement

SPHERU is providing leadership in a provincial network in Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR) receiving funding between 2015 and 2020 to encourage better patient outcomes. The network, specifically focused on Primary and Integrated Health Care Innovations, seeks to align “upstream” determinants of health with the health care system for better patient care, better outcomes and with lesser cost. SPHERU was involved during a first phase of SPOR funding to establish the network and set priorities for research. Recently, the stage two proposal, Saskatchewan SPOR Network in Primary and Integrated Health Care (PIHC) Innovation: Management & Operations grant application, was approved by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. CIHR will provide $500,000 over the five years to match the $500,000 provided by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation, and partners, the University of Saskatchewan and the Saskatoon Health Region. “This support will enable us to build on the work we have done to date, and accelerate the development of the network,” says SPHERU’s Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine who is the scientific lead of the Saskatchewan network. “The reviewers have clearly recognized the quality of the Saskatchewan network team, the relevance and potential impact of the work we have put forward to improve the health of people in our province.” Muhajarine and Dr. Cory Neudorf are both members of the network’s leadership council, which includes representation from the research, clinical and policy communities. One of the goals for the network will be to involve patients in all aspects of the research process. The pan-Canadian SPOR Network in Primary and Integrated Health Care Innovations is a “network of networks” that builds on member networks and national assets in community-based primary and integrated health care to foster a new alliance between research, policy and practice. It will create dynamic and responsive learning systems across the country that develop, evaluate and scale up new approaches to the delivery of horizontally and vertically integrated services within and across sectors of health care (e.g., public health, home and community care, primary, secondary, and tertiary care) as well as outside the health sector (e.g., education, social services, housing). The PIHC network is the first one to be set up in Saskatchewan. Among the priorities identified by the network are research across the lifespan as well as on Aboriginal, northern and rural communities, work that will be a natural fit for SPHERU’s current areas of research. During this second phase, researchers will be able to apply for funds for work that could include research, implementation or knowledge translation. The research could involve people from a range of disciplines from surgery to geography. A third phase of research, for which a call for applications is expected in late 2015, will involve projects in the two- to five-year-range which will involve multiple provinces.

Johnson spends semester as Fulbright scholar

Dr. Shanthi Johnson’s research looks into preventing falls among seniors and she’ll expand this to compare policy on falls and injury prevention as a visiting Fulbright scholar. She was announced as one of 11 Fulbright Canada scholars for the 2014-15 year. For her Fulbright project, she will look at nutrition and food-related policies in nursing homes as well as falls and injury prevention policies within the active aging framework in Florida and Saskatchewan in a partnership with SPHERU and the Florida Policy Exchange Center on Aging, University of South Florida.“Our population is growing older around the world, and it is incredibly important to examine aging issues from cross-cultural and multidisciplinary perspectives,” Johnson said in a University of Regina news release. “This award is a recognition of the world-class research in this important field taking place at our university.” In addition to SPHERU, she is a professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies at the University of Regina. Her epidemiological research considers the surveillance and monitoring of falls and fall-related injuries among seniors, as well as on interventions examining the underlying mechanisms associated with falls among seniors in community and long-term care settings. Fulbright Canada’s mandate is to promote mutual understanding between Canada and the United States of America by providing support to outstanding individuals so they can conduct research, lecture or enroll in formal academic programs in the other country. The foundation is a binational, treaty-based, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization that identifies outstanding scholars in both countries and engages them in residential academic exchange.

Two post-docs working with SPHERU

SPHERU is working with two post-doctoral fellows on a couple of projects related to Aboriginal health. Dr. Amanda LaVallee is a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology. She is working under the direction of Dr. Sylvia Abonyi and Dr. Sarah Oosman on the research project, Wuskiwiy-tan! (Let’s Move!): Aging well in a northern Saskatchewan Métis Community. In partnership with the Métis community of Île-à-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan, this population health intervention research project will fill the knowledge gap and provide evidence of the effectiveness of current and emerging program and policy interventions promoting aging well for Métis and other Aboriginal peoples. As a Métis health researcher, LaVallee is committed to the advancement of Indigenous knowledge, research, health promotion, prevention and education in order to improve the health status and research outcomes for Indigenous populations. As well, Dr. Andrew Hatala is a Canadian Institutes of Health Research post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology. Working under the direction of Abonyi, Hatala is conducting a community-based research project that is identifying strategies of resilience and mental health among inner-city Aboriginal youth. In collaboration with several inner-city organizations, including Core Neighbourhood Youth Co-op, White Buffalo Youth Lodge, and the Saskatoon Tribal Council, this project takes as its operating principle the notion that there are important existing resources, capabilities, and strengths within inner-city neighbourhoods. These will be investigated to inform community well-being and mental health interventions, deepen the understanding of youth resilience and guide various youth programs by the Saskatoon Health Region and other community-based organizations working with inner-city youth in Saskatoon.

Muhajarine, team evaluate FASD support

SPHERU has produced a 104-page report evaluating services and supports for Saskatchewan people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and their families. It is part of a comprehensive provincial review of programming for FASD and autism spectrum. In 2013-14, the Ministry of Health contracted SPHERU and two other consultants to evaluate types of services and supports. As a result, Muhajarine and a team of Kathryn Green, Duvaraga Sivajohanathan, Shankar Babu Chelladurai and Tara Todd produced the report, “Evaluation of the Government of Saskatchewan’s FASD-Related Services: Cognitive Disabilities Consultants and Community-Based Support Programs, which is available on our website under Publications. They evaluated a number of programs throughout the province, such as the Cognitive Disabilities Strategy (CDS) and regional Cognitive Disabilities Consultants (CDCs). The consultants work with families living with cognitive disabilities by developing support plans and help them access funding to address needs. As well, the team examined four community programs for the report. As far as methodology, the team relied on semi-structured interviews and focus groups held with administrators, staff, clients, partners and others. These took place from September to December 2013. The CDS’s three main strengths were: knowledge, helpful consultants; an inter-ministerial foundation that promotes working across sectors; and funding that permits clients to address previously unmet needs. However, there were also challenges, such as: delays; complicated applications and renewals; dissatisfaction with funding; confusion about roles and responsibilities; more transparency, better communication and standardization; finding qualified mentors; a need from more consultants; and providing service for rural areas. When it came to the community-level programs, the team found elements that led to successes such as dedicated, compassionate staff that take a holistic, flexible approach and connect clients with other agencies and organizations. There were challenges though, such as the unpredictability of clients’ cognitive disabilities; clients’ lack of external resources; inflexible systems that don’t accommodate people; and limits on funding limit, which means limits to services that can be provided, low wages and few benefits for staff, and ultimately to high turnover. Still, the common view was the community programs should be expanded. The report concludes that while the impacts of the programs are sometimes hard to measure, it identifies a number of positive effects on the lives of clients and suggests a cost-benefit analysis be completed for a future evaluation.

SPHERU responds to Globe opinion piece

The following letter was submitted to the Globe and Mail in November, 2014 in response to an opinion piece concerning the role of the public health community.Peter Shawn Taylor’s opinion piece argues that public health should leave aside politics and economics, and stick to overseeing public health measures. He argues, “While there may be a link between poverty and health, there is no such connection to be found in the gap between rich and poor.” In fact we know that overall population health declines as that gap increases. For Taylor it is enough to simply treat the disease’s symptoms and to leave the cause alone, but that is to misunderstand the very history of public health itself. To be effective public health must also point out the causes and conditions that create public health risks. As Rudolf Virchow, the renowned 19th century physician and public health activist, said more than 100 years ago: “Medicine is a social science, and politics is nothing else but medicine on a large scale.… If medicine is really to accomplish its great task, it must intervene in political and social life. It must point out the hindrances that impede the normal social functioning of vital processes, and effect their removal.” To pretend that public health does not exist in a social, political and economic context is to deny the very basic epidemiology of disease. The Victorians understood that if you wanted society at large to be safe from diseases like typhus and the plague it required tackling the causes of those diseases and ameliorating the conditions that give rise to them. The same is true of TB, HIV, Ebola and a host of other diseases today.Dr. Sylvia Abonyi, SaskatoonDr. Tom McIntosh, ReginaSaskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit

Healthy aging in place team has busy fall

The healthy aging in place team has had a busy fall, and continues to work with partner communities as well as promote the research program to support rural seniors’ health. This fall, the team worked to recruit participants for the Healthy Aging in Place Exercise Intervention Program by hosting several community presentations led by Dr. Bonnie Jeffery and Dr. Shanthi Johnson. The exercise program works with rural older adults to support mobility and social interaction. At present, there are more than 30 participants in the rural communities of Watrous and Young, with another 13 taking part in Wolseley. In October, Johnson provided the team with training to conduct mobility and fall assessments with older adults. The first wave of data collection in all three communities will be completed by mid-December. Recently in November, Juanita Bacsu and research team members Nuelle Novik and Marc Viger presented at the Community-Based Research Showcase at the University of Regina. The research team set up a display table and a poster presentation, “Lessons from a Longitudinal Rural Healthy Aging Study.” The poster outlined the work of the healthy aging team’s study from 2011-2014 in the Saskatchewan communities of Watrous, Young and Wolseley, including lessons learned and implications for stakeholders, including policy-makers, health practitioners and community leaders. The showcase featured presentations on a range of topics, including the Saskatchewan Indigenous Strategy on HIV and AIDS, A Living Wage for Regina and a Seniors Neglect and Abuse Response Line. In October, the healthy aging team took part in the 7th International Symposium: Safety and Health and Agricultural and Rural Populations: Global Perspectives (SHARP 2014) in Saskatoon, giving one oral and two poster presentations. These discussed rural older adults’ perceptions of cognitive health, retention strategies for longitudinal rural healthy aging studies and the support of rural needs through community-based research. The symposium attracted researchers, community leaders, policy-makers and health practitioners and looked at the impact of global issues and challenges facing the health and safety of rural peoples in the 21st century and how to bridge gaps between basic research, applied research, policy and the community.

SPHERU Newsletter

Issue 11
October 2014

History project update, new seasonality study

Photo Credit(s):
Northern and Aboriginal Health (Hilary Gough), Rural Health (Juanita Bacsu), Intervention Research (Andrea Scerbe), Healthy Children (Brad Proudlove), History of Health Inequities (Saskatchewan Archives Board)