Ten healthy years
The Health Research Unit (HRU) of Memorial's Division of Community Health celebrated 10 years of collaborative community health research Nov. 28, 2002 with a lunch and afternoon of discussion on the past, present and future of community-based health research.
The work of the past decade was illustrated in a commemorative booklet featuring a summary of the 33 studies produced as well as a description of the workshop and two conferences hosted by the HRU. Dean Ian Bowmer described the HRU as a "driving force" in the Faculty of Medicine, and congratulated members of the unit on their expertise and ability to collaborate with community groups.
Speaking on behalf of the provincial Department of Health and Community Services, deputy minister Loretta Chard said the continuing partnership with the HRU will be even more important in implementing the recently-released strategic health plan.
"We have to come up with innovative solutions to ensure a sustainable system."
One of the community groups the HRU has worked with is the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. The first phase of a study determining the needs of blind and visually impaired Aboriginal peoples in Atlantic Canada was recently completed and the research presented to the three communities involved for feedback.
"This research is unique in Canada," said CNIB representative Len Baker. "The help and support of the HRU was tremendous and having the credentials of the HRU helps with our accountability."
Reviewing the history of the Health Research Unit, founding director Dr. Sharon Buehler described how it started in 1991 when she was asked to do a study on the high rate of caesarian sections performed in the province.
That study, completed with Dr. Robin Moore-Orr, prompted Dr. Buehler to work with the late Dr. Jorge Segovia, then head of Community Health, on establishing a research contract arm for the division.
"Contract budgets were a whole new experience," she said. "We had to respond quickly and meet tight deadlines. Principles quickly emerged that the `client' and target population are an important part of design and implementation, that multiple perspectives require that multiple disciplines be involved, and that reports be presented in plain language."
Roundtable discussions on the issues facing the HRU identified its strengths as credibility based on a good track record; available expertise and good interaction style; resources including an established infrastructure, permanent staff and a pool of talent; and linkages including a good relationship with the provincial government and the community. Weaknesses were identified as a staff shortage and the need for a broader market to inform groups about the HRU and the resources it can provide.
Suggestions on how the HRU should expand and maintain its research base in the community included maintaining independent status through Memorial, providing support in health promotion and prevention areas such as nutrition, housing and literacy, and increasing networking capacity with agencies such as the Community Services Council and non-governmental organizations. A number of suggestions were made on activities other than research that the HRU should engage in, including hosting workshops to encourage community capacity building, acting as a liaison between academia, government and community, and establishing a model for community health centres.