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Georgian, Waypoint team up to examine pandemic's impact on health-care workers

Two collaborative projects supported by $150K research grant provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada

New research being conducted through the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care and Georgian College is exploring the impact the pandemic is having on a group of health-care workers.

“The pandemic has affected different people differently and I think we can’t ignore the mental health needs of our front-line workers because those are the people we’re entrusting to take care of us,” said psychiatrist Dr. Nathan Kolla, vice-president of research and academics at the mental health facility in Penetanguishene. “So I think it’s very important to us to be able to gauge their level of symptoms so that we can help take care of them.”

Effects of COVID-19 on Health-care Providers: Opportunities for Education and Support addresses how COVID-19 has unsettled daily life for health-care providers who already experience high stress, anxiety, and depression in their workplaces. 

The psycho-social functioning of approximately 100 workers at Waypoint considers anxiety, stress, depression, coping and resiliency through a half-hour survey. A qualitative analysis will accompany the quantitative data, to be drawn from interviews and focus groups.

A survey was completed by 116 of the workers, 94 of them considered complete. So far, 10 of the participants have been involved in interviews and focus groups are expected to follow.

Research associate Daniel Anzola points out that the project goes beyond research and incorporates the development or application of tools to help them continue to work through the pandemic.

“Our research should be used to develop educational support, tools to assist the mental care providers at Waypoint,” he said. “COVID is changing the way everyone works. In a place like Waypoint, “We’re trying to assess the health-care workers’ mental status.”

A big part of the work is drawing from the information gleaned from the workers to develop knowledge translation through the creation of events, likely online, or the circulation of literature. That would include how those who might be struggling could access help, what managers can do to support staff and what is needed to help those on the frontlines working with COVID-19.

Anzola is a doctor from Colombia who is going through the lengthy process of having his status as a doctor validated in Canada. He has a background in clinical research and is a recent graduate of Georgian College’s research analyst program, now working at the college’s department of research and innovation.

“We’re trying to see how the interviews provide context for the data. We’re trying to make everything come together to tell a story, to give us a full picture of what’s happening and how to better deliver health care,” he said.

The study is one of two involving the first co-operative effort between the two institutions, tapping into a $150,000 research grant provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s special College and Community Innovation Program – Applied Research Rapid Response to COVID-19 fund.

The second project is developing and examining the impact of a four-week online mindfulness training program for health-care professionals adapted from the Mindfulness Without Borders Mindfulness Ambassador Program, a 12-week program whose effectiveness in reducing stress and mitigating burnout has been confirmed through previous examinations.

“What we really want to know is: are those effects still true if we condense the program and shorten the length,” said principal investigator Sarah Hunter. “We’re measuring empathy, we’re measuring resiliency and we’re measuring burnout.”

If the study determines a shorter program offered online instead of in-person is effective, its capacity can be expanded.

Mira Ray, Georgian College’s director of research and innovation, said a lot of the college’s research is conducted in partnership with other organizations, either industry led or community partner led.

“So the need is coming from our community partner,” she said.

Waypoint was concerned about the impact of the pandemic on its staff, which led to one of the projects. But the tools developed as a result of that study, said Ray, will have applicability beyond Waypoint for all health-care workers.

The second project focusing on mindfulness examines whether providing the program online, over a shorter period, will help people like the original in-person, 12-week course has proven to do.

“For me it’s about being able to facilitate this collaboration and the importance of bringing together our expertise to be able to help Waypoint with a real need that it has for both projects,” she said.

The coming together of the two institutions to combine their efforts may well lead to further collaborations.

“We’re very much used to collaborating with other institutions, other investigators, but this is the first time that we had a collaboration with Georgian College,” said Waypoint’s Kolla.

Waypoint’s research institute supports about 20 employees ranging including clinician and research scientists, analysts and students.