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London, Ont. researchers get $2.8M in funding for national health-care worker mental health program

(left) Dr. Don Richardson, Lawson scientist and director of the MacDonald Franklin OSI Research Centre at St. Joseph’s Hospital, and Dr. Anthony Nazarov, associate scientist at Lawson and the MacDonald Franklin OSI Research Centre at St. Joseph’s Health Care London.
(left) Dr. Don Richardson, Lawson scientist and director of the MacDonald Franklin OSI Research Centre at St. Joseph’s Hospital, and Dr. Anthony Nazarov, associate scientist at Lawson and the MacDonald Franklin OSI Research Centre at St. Joseph’s Health Care London. Lawson Health Research Institute

A team out of McDonald Franklin OSI (Operational Stress Inquiry) Research Centre in London, Ont., received $2.8 million in funding to launch a project aimed at supporting the mental health and well-being of Canadian health-care workers.

Receiving the funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the project is titled “Promoting Resilience and Mental Health: Adapting Canada’s Department of National Defence Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR) Program to Support Canadian Health Care Workers.”

Read more: Federal government invests $28.2M in mental health support for first responders

The MacDonald Franklin OSI Research Centre primarily works with veterans, those working within the Canadian military, and their families in providing specialized mental health services.

The centre is part of Lawson Health Research Institute, one of Canada’s top hospital-based research institutes.

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“We’re very excited about this initiative,” said Dr. Don Richardson, Lawson scientist and director of the MacDonald Franklin OSI Research Centre at St. Joseph’s Hospital. “The funding will primarily be used to adapt a current module, which is the Road to Mental Readiness Program that was well established in the Canadian Forces, and adapting it to health-care workers.”

According to a media release provided by Lawson Health Research Institute, the purpose of this project is to identify mental health barriers within health-care institutions and create a “streamlined framework” aiming to build and promote supportive environments nationally.

Spanning 14 months, the project will assist researchers in planning, testing and adapting the health care-focused Road to Mental Readiness Program, according to the release.

“We want to educate institutions to create an environment that supports wellness not just at the individual level, but at the institutional level as well,” said Dr. Anthony Nazarov, associate scientist at Lawson and the MacDonald Franklin OSI Research Centre at St. Joseph’s Health Care London.

Richardson added that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted Canadian health-care workers as they continue to face challenges including lack of resources, increased workloads and fears of exposure to the virus.

“One of the main reasons we felt this (project) was necessary stems from a recent study our team conducted that focused on moral distress and the mental health of Canadian health-care workers,” he said. “Our preliminary study results found that many Canadian health-care workers have been negatively impacted by the pandemic with conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stress and depression.”

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According to Richardson, once the research team has adapted the original program, designed by the Canadian military, practical testing will begin for the Promoting Resilience and Mental Health project.

He added that the best way to adapt the initial module is by gathering the “lived experience of health-care workers,” referring to a term he called “mental health literacy.”

“It’s knowing what the signs and symptoms are of general well-being and illness,” he explained. “There is information that’s provided to teach people and individuals of the continuum of mental health and mental illness from being healthy, to reacting to stress, or identifying that you’re ill.

“The more that you become aware that you’re suffering or having the symptoms, then you might be able to take preventative measures before you become ill or injured.”

Read more: McMaster researchers get share of $28M to aid mental health initiatives for front-line workers

The funding provided by PHAC for the program is part of the federal 2021 budget, which declared an investment of $50 million over two years in supporting projects that address PTSD and trauma in front-line and essential workers, including others affected by the pandemic.

The Promoting Resilience and Mental Health program fronted by McDonald Franklin OSI Research Centre is one of nine projects to first be supported through the budget, totalling an investment of $28.2 million.

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Richardson hopes to have the “resiliency program” adopted by health-care organizations across the country.

“If proven effective, this would provide additional tools to health care workers to help them cope, improve their resiliency and hopefully mitigate future staff shortages,” he said.

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