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.