Gateway Centre of Excellence in Rural Health (CERH), surveyed essential healthcare workers in Huron County, who continued to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, to report on how the pandemic has affected their health and well-being. The survey was intended to be a snapshot during the peak period of COVID activity in our rural area. Data for this initiative was collected through an online questionnaire, which resulted in 160 participants.
Gateway CERH secured funding from Perth-Huron United Way for this project. As Nancy Simpson, Project Lead, said: “… collectively and in partnership, we are making a difference in our community.” The results from the survey provided insight into the emerging needs of our local rural healthcare workers, the types of support systems currently available, as well as identifying supports needed to serve healthcare workers in our local communities.
Commenting on the partnership between Gateway and Perth-Huron United Way, Simpson said: “[we] are two local organizations well aligned in [our] mission and support of residents. The United Way’s objective is to maximize the positive impact on communities through evidence-based priorities and actions.”
The questionnaire provided essential healthcare workers with the opportunity to report on how the pandemic is affecting their health and well-being both personally and professionally. It was sent out to local community psychiatric services, long-term care facilities, retirement homes, family health teams, hospitals, pharmacies, hospices, as well as emergency medical services.
Commenting on the project, Simpson said: “with the funding provided by the COVID-19 Urgent Needs Fund, Gateway reacted quickly to develop and circulate a survey to rural healthcare workers to assess the impact of the pandemic on the well-being of these essential workers.”
Taylor Pratt, Summer Student Research Assistant, made a public call to individuals working in the Huron County Health Care sector, asking them to participate in the questionnaire. To circulate the survey, Pratt turned to social media, phone calls, and email - directly reaching 74 healthcare workers. Commenting on the participant response rate, Pratt said: “we are amazed by the number of responses we received. We appreciate the honesty and willingness of the healthcare workers’ responses.”
Dr. Al Lauzon, Chair of Rural Change and Development and Casandra Bryant, Research Associate have been analyzing the data and developing a report. Commenting on the data, Bryant said: “just over three-quarters of respondents feel that workplace stressors have impacted their life outside of work highlighting mental and physical health concerns, work-life balance challenges, and concerns directly related to the family.”
The survey results suggest that over half (65%) of respondents indicated that they have experienced personal stressors at work since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of these respondents, 96% believe the personal stressors they are experiencing are a direct result of the pandemic. For those who responded that they were already experiencing personal stressors prior to the pandemic, 95% reported the pandemic has exacerbated the stress they are experiencing.
Dr. Wayne Caldwell is a Professor in Rural Planning and Development and alongside his PhD student Rana Telfah, they are investigating the economic impacts and influence of COVID-19 on Syrian Refugee settlement and Integration into rural Canada.
Dr. Caldwell commented on Gateway being the perfect partner for their project, “Given Gateway’s broad interest in health and this vulnerable population it was a natural partnership to work with Gateway to make this happen. … Certainly, Gateway is focused on rural and that is what Rana’s research is focused on.”
Telfah was raised in the country of Jordan where she completed her Master’s degree at the University of Jordan. In 2012, she moved to Guelph with her one son at the time. She applied to the University of Guelph and got accepted for the Rural Planning program.
“I did program evaluation and by the end of the program, I grew some interest in doing research about the Syrian families who recently moved to Ontario,” said Telfah.
After growing this interest, she started her PhD under Professor Caldwell four years ago in 2016. Her PhD research is about applying gender analysis to Syrian families in Southwestern Ontario.
“When I came to Canada, I stayed in Guelph. I realized that Guelph had so many things that are missing for Immigrants, especially women. From my personal experience, I see how hard it is for all women coming from a different country to come in and integrate easily. So, when Syrian families come to Ontario and live in even smaller rural communities, I know they feel the same pressure I felt. Speaking [to them] about the challenges they face and highlighting the voices of the Syrian families is important,” said Telfah.
Telfah started interviews with Syrian families in January, however, with the COVID-19 pandemic her focus shifted. “When I started to do phone interviews due to COVID, families started to speak about COVID-19 and the impact it had on their babies’ lives, how they are losing their jobs and how they are being more isolated,” Telfah said. She was able to re-evaluate her research design to add the impact COVID-19 is having on Syrian families.
“This was Rana’s research before COVID came along. With the opportunity through Mitacs (a non-profit national research organization), which encourages people to look at COVID-19 and the impact it has on rural families. It was a great opportunity to dove tail the work Rana was already looking at,” said Dr. Caldwell.
“We have been working on a number of projects related to COVID- 19,” said Gwen Devereaux, president of the board of directors of Gateway. “This is such important work in a population that may not have had a voice in rural without this effort by our Guelph University partner.”
Today the students presented their projects to over 20 individuals including Gateway Board Members, Research Chairs as well as a number of community members. Taylor Pratt presented the work she contributed to Gateway’s COVID-19 Healthcare Sector Survey. The survey found family challenges and concerns, shopping challenges and mental and physical health concerns as the top stressors for the healthcare sector respondents. It was found that 65% of respondents experienced personal stressors at work since the emergence of COVID-19. Despite this statistic, it was encouraging to see that activities and exercise were being utilized by respondents to help manage their stressors.
Joel Hordijk presented next and described his contribution to Gateway’s business plan, marketing and promotional initiatives. He also explored the potential of promoting rural health through the creation of a Rural Health Awareness Day. It was exciting to see such new and innovative ideas being contributed towards Gateway’s mission to improve rural health.
Meghan Wild-Denys spoke on her role in the development of Gateway’s Farmers’ Mental Health Project. Meghan was able to make significant contributions to the “Farm Safety” arm of the project and was able to research the impacts COVID-19 on farmers in our area through conducting a review of the literature available.
Lastly, Jenna Schade presented on her contributions to Al Lauzon’s Food Insecurity Project. This project aims to explore food insecurity among rural seniors. Jenna was able to conduct multiple literature reviews on food deserts, food swamps, local rural food access and farmer’s markets and alternative agriculture.
We would like to thank our students for their wonderful contributions this summer and we wish them all the best in their future endeavors.
Gateway is excited to have a new research associate join their team, Casandra Bryant.
Alongside the Gateway team, Bryant is advising on a research project investigating the impact of COVID-19 on the rural healthcare system with a focus on the well-being of healthcare workers and others employed in a healthcare setting. This research aims to clearly identify the impact of COVID-19 on rural healthcare workers and inform future support initiatives and resources for the immediate future and post-pandemic. This project is funded by Huron-Perth United Way.
The recent appointment of Jane Philpott as a special advisor to Ontario’s Minister of Health with a mandate to design and implement a health-data platform aimed to assist researchers and health-system workers, indicates the importance of gathering pandemic data. While it is unknown how and where this data will be gathered, most studies and reports have been urban-centric. Bryant is excited to be a part of a research initiative that solely focuses on the rural healthcare system in Huron county. She is advising on the research design and data analysis stages of the project.
“I am a first year PhD student in Rural Studies at the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development at the University of Guelph. My MSc in Capacity Development and Extension focused on rural connectivity, and communication media with rural radio broadcasters, extension workers and community development officers in Latin America, and Africa. I completed a consultancy at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome, Italy and conducted additional communication-focused research in rural Central America before returning to Canada.” said Bryant.
In addition to her academic work, Bryant brings 15 plus years of professional experience as a non-profit organization consultant, working with a number of national health-related organizations such as, Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada, MS Society of Canada, Prostate Cancer Foundation, Renascent Foundation and Rethink Breast Cancer. One of her recent roles as a Strategy Lead in Program Development helped to create a leadership-coaching program for nurses and healthcare executives centred on creating leadership cultures that embrace relationship-centred care and personal development.
Her doctorate work will focus on rural women social entrepreneurs at both the community and policy level. She feels the role of social enterprise has been and will continue to play a role in addressing social issues such as gender inequality, mental and physical health, healthcare access, economic empowerment and community resilience. Bryant’s research will specifically explore female social entrepreneurs with the hope to learn more about the opportunities and challenges they face as women.
“We continue to attract and strengthen Gateway. We are delighted to welcome Casandra to our team,” said Gwen Devereaux, president, Board of Directors.
Gateway Centre of Excellence and Rural Health is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the health and quality of life of rural residents. To help achieve this mission, Gateway has partnered with 100 students over the last 11 years and will continue to help support youth retention in Huron County.
Even though things look different this term, Gateway lead research continues through the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are missing meeting with the students in person but with technology we are managing to move several projects forward.” said Gwen Devereaux (President at Gateway). Jay McFarlan (Vice President at Gateway) added “The students we employ at Gateway each summer, bring such tremendous energy to the organization. I am consistently impressed with their enthusiasm and dedication to improving the community in which they live."
In addition to getting exposure to the inner workings of a local not-for-profit, the students this term will partnering with Gateway to develop and promote research and rural focused projects such their Food Insecurity Project and their Farmers’ Mental Health & Resiliency Project.
“I am entering my fourth year at the University of Guelph studying Human Kinetics. This summer I will be working alongside Dr. Al Lauzon researching food insecurity among seniors living independently in rural areas. As a lifelong resident of Huron County, the opportunity to contribute to research that benefits rural seniors is an excellent learning opportunity. Once I finish my undergraduate, I hope to further my education through graduate studies in human kinetics/kinesiology or attending professional school for physiotherapy. I plan to return to rural southwestern Ontario after my schooling to contribute to the health and well-being of others.” said Jenna Schade, one of Gateway’s new summer students.
Jenna Schade will be partnering with Gateway and the University of Guelph to explore food insecurity among rural seniors living independently. “Last summer we interviewed service providers and this summer had hoped to interview seniors in Huron, Perth, Grey and Bruce Counties. Unfortunately, we have had to delay these interviews [due to COVID-19]. However, we are still moving forward by updating our literature review, mapping the food ecosystem in the four counties and hopefully work on publishing previous results of the study.” says Dr. Al Lauzon (Research Chair at Gateway).
In addition to Jenna, Gateway also welcomes Meghan Wild-Denys to the team. “How fortunate we are to have a student living on a farm and realizing first-hand the challenges in operating an agriculture business … Megan will be advancing our Farmers Mental Health and Resiliency project this summer with a focus on COVID-19 and the additional stress this places on our agriculture community” said Gwen Devereaux (President at Gateway). Meghan is going into her third year at Brock University and is majoring in Medical Science.
“I am passionate about empowering others to make our health care system the best it can be … My plan is to become a Naturopathic Doctor where I can help people live their healthiest lives through preventative, natural medicine. Having grown up on a farm in Huron County, I have great interest in rural health and supporting residents of our community, especially farmers. I am excited to have the opportunity to be supporting local farmers’ mental and therefore, physical health through the Farmer’s Mental Health project with Gateway” said Meghan.
Taylor Pratt, who has recently received her BA Honours Specialization in Psychology at the University of Western Ontario, will also be joining Gateway this summer. “I hope to gain new insights into the research field and have a positive impact on the surrounding rural communities” said Taylor. As Nancy Simpson (Chair of Gateway’s Sustainable Resource Committee and Board Director) shared “the research Taylor is working on will help benefit the lives of many rural residents. [Taylor will be helping Gateway explore] … how the health and well-being of health-care workers are impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic in Huron County. Understanding the main stressors will be vital in identifying the impact of the pandemic on health-care workers, help us to better understand the types of support available to them and identify key needs moving forward.”
Last but not least, Joel Hordijk will be joining Gateway this summer. “I am a second-year student enrolled in the Honours Bachelor of Health Sciences program at the University of Ottawa. Through my studies, I became aware of many challenges the rural communities face with personal health and access to care. With the opportunity to work at Gateway, I hope to use the research and resources available to develop an effective business plan further promoting the challenges faced by those in rural communities. In the future, I hope to study for a Medical Degree and later pursue a career in rural health.” said Joel. As Jay McFarlan (Vice-President at Gateway) put it “Joel's experience with various businesses in the agricultural sector, as well as his knowledge of health sciences has made him an ideal candidate”.
“Looks like [it will be] a wonderful summer again this year.” said Gwen Devereaux (President at Gateway). To learn more about Gateway visit their website: www.gatewayruralhealth.ca.
"I am entering my fourth year at the University of Guelph studying Human Kinetics. This summer I will be working alongside Dr. Al Lauzon researching food insecurity among seniors living independently in Huron, Perth, Grey and Bruce. As a lifelong resident of Huron County, the opportunity to contribute to research that benefits rural seniors is exciting and an excellent learning opportunity. Once I finish my undergraduate, I hope to further my education through graduate studies in human kinetics /kinesiology or attending professional school for physiotherapy. I hopes to return to rural southwestern Ontario after my schooling to contribute to the health and well-being of others."
"I am a second year student enrolled in the Honours Bachelor of Health Sciences program at
the University of Ottawa. Through my studies, I became aware of challenges the rural
communities face with personal health and access to care. With the opportunity to work at
Gateway, I hope to use the research and resources available to promote healthy living in
rural communities. In the future, I hope to study for a Medical Degree and later pursue a
career in rural health."
"I am going into my 3rd year at Brock University majoring in Medical Sciences and am in the Med Plus program. I am compassionate about empowering others to make our health care system the best it can be. In September 2020, a club that I cofounded called “Women in Medicine” will be launching at Brock University to empower and inspire women looking to pursue a career in the health care field. I plan to become a Naturopathic Doctor where I can help people live their healthiest lives through preventative, natural medicine. Having growing up on a farm in Huron County, I have great interest in rural health and supporting residents of our community especially farmers. I am excited to have the opportunity to be assisting local farmers maintain their mental and therefore, physical health through the Farmer’s Mental Health project with Gateway."
"I am a recent graduate of the University of Western Ontario, where I completed my BA Honours Specialization in Psychology. During my time at Western, I achieved a high academic standing while participating in activities and organizations that contributed significantly to the community. I dedicated my time as a student leader, mentor, and research assistant to enrich academic education at the university. Over the years, I have gained solid research knowledge and experience by working under the supervision of four professors on five different research-related projects. As a compassionate individual interested in improving health care and health-related factors that affect our everyday lives, I am looking forward to gaining knowledge and contributing to Gateway’s research in health care delivery. During my time at Gateway, I am investigating the impact of COVID 19 on our rural healthcare system and the well-being of healthcare workers both professionally and personally - working alongside Dr. Al Lauzon, Dan, Nancy, Gwen and one of Gateway’s Research Assistants (Cassandra). I hope to gain new insights into the research field and have a positive impact on the surrounding rural communities. This summer I am studying for and writing the Medical Colleges Admissions Test. In the future, I hope to study medicine at a Canadian Medical School."
"In the summer of 2019, I was employed full-time at Canada's only community-driven rural health research organization in Goderich, Ontario. During my time at Gateway, I worked on a qualitative research project about food insecurity among seniors in Huron, Perth, Grey and Bruce Counties. My research partner and I recruited and interviewed 77 participants in seven weeks - a task that our supervisor anticipated would require the full 16 weeks of our contract. Resourceful and imaginative planning was the key to our efficiency. I took the initiative to attend community events and introduce myself to representatives from health units, local government and home care organizations. These stakeholders created a lot of "buzz" in the community on our behalf, and spread the word about our research project.
Through July and August, my research partner and I were invited to write four different articles in local newspapers, and were interviewed on LOCALone, the TV guide channel for Hay Communications. During the latter half of our contract in Goderich, we completed a thematic analysis of our data, benefiting from my experience using online software to facilitate coding and data management, while working independently from our supervisor, who was situated in Guelph. We wrote a feature on our project for Boomer Magazine, which serves a readership of more than 11,000 citizens aged 60 years and older. Our 35-page report was shared with stakeholders and will be used in a textbook on rural food insecurity by Dr. Allan Lauzon.
Although I had participated in seven different quantitative and qualitative research studies before this summer at Gateway, I took away some unexpected lessons. It was rewarding and humbling to return to the community where I grew up, but especially meaningful to be able to devote my research to improving the health of residents who had been my neighbors, and who in many instances supported and shaped me in my early years of life: at church and concerts, and in the figure skating arena. It also confirmed for me that research and rural medical practice can be productive partners, and that my aspirations to build a medical career in an under-served area, working as both a dedicated clinician and innovative researcher, are logical and possible."
- Valerie Steckle (Gateway Student 2019)
The McCall MacBain Foundation has made a donation of $35,000 to provide iPads for the use of residents in long-term care homes, hospitals, retirement homes and hospices across Huron County. The endeavour is being facilitated by the Gateway Centre for Excellence in Rural Health, and the devices are currently being distributed to residences and institutions across the County.
“Having been raised in Huron County, the health and well-being of my home community is a priority,” said Marcy McCall MacBain, who co-founded the McCall MacBain Foundation with her husband John. “We are grateful to the healthcare workers and Gateway Centre for Excellence in Rural Health, and are honoured to be working together to ensure this difficult situation of physical distancing becomes just a little bit more manageable.”
Gateway CERH, with the help of their students, is ensuring iPads are programmed properly and distributed to the homes, residences and hospitals where they will be used. Popular and user-friendly apps such as Skype, FaceTime and Zoom will be available on all of the devices and will make it easy for staff to support residents, and for patients and residents to stay connected with family members and other essential supports.
“Currently, we are all feeling the effects of isolation while following government directions to stay at home as much as possible. There is nothing more heart breaking than to think of seniors in long-term care homes and patients in hospitals, isolated because of COVID-19 and unable to connect with their loved ones,” said Gwen Devereux, President of the Board of Directors of Gateway CERH.
“This is a wonderful example of giving back to your community and we thank the McCall MacBain Foundation for helping our community when it is needed,” continued Gwen. “It is so important for patients and residents to have the ability to see and speak directly, even if virtually, with their children, grandchildren, friends and family during this pandemic. Gateway CERH is honoured to have the opportunity to partner with the McCall MacBain Foundation and make this a reality.” Early recipients of the iPads are thrilled to put them to good use.
Jennifer Bennett, General Manager at Maplewood Manor had the following to say: “Maplewood Manor staff and residents would like to thank the McCall MacBain Foundation for the donation of iPads. This generous gift will go a long way to keeping our residents connected during these difficult times. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.”
Brittany Hamilton, General Manager of Goderich Place added to this by saying: “Goderich Place would like to extend our extreme gratitude and appreciation for the very generous donation of iPads; we feel so fortunately and are very grateful! These iPads will allow for residents to have more FaceTime calls with family and friends in order to stay connected during these difficult times.”
The hope is that the arrival of these iPads will free up staff time and enable patients and residents the opportunity to connect with loved ones and the world. Gateway CERH also believes that these iPads will support people's well-being long beyond the end of COVID-19.
“Anything we can do at this time to help our health care workers is important, and please know we appreciate all you are doing to help us get through this,” said Gwen.