Lakehead University Research Team To Study Palliative Care for First Nations

THUNDER BAY – A research team based at Lakehead University’s Centre for Education and Research on Aging and Health (CERAH) has recently been awarded a five-year, $1.825 million Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Aboriginal Health Intervention Grant dedicated to improving palliative care services in First Nations communities. The project was lead by Principal Investigators Dr. Mary Lou Kelley, CERAH Research Affiliate and Professor of Social Work at Lakehead University, and Dr. Kevin Brazil, Director of St. Joseph’s Health System’s Research Network and Professor in the Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at McMaster University.

“Addressing the unmet need for accessible, culturally appropriate palliative care services for Aboriginal people in First Nations communities is a growing social obligation and an emerging Canadian policy priority,” says Dr. Kelley.  “Participants in First Nations communities have much to teach all of us about the process of supporting local capacity building,” she adds.

To examine this issue, four First Nations communities were chosen as partners and study sites, including Naotkamegwanning First Nation, Fort William First Nation, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, and Peguis First Nation, of the Kenora, Thunder Bay, Hamilton, and Winnipeg areas respectively. The outcome of the research will include a model and guidelines for developing palliative care.  Perhaps more importantly will be the documentation of the process that identifies critical components of success in developing palliative care services in local communities. Lessons learned from this project have the potential for application to other First Nations communities also in need of developing local palliative care services.

“The importance of this funding is that it acknowledges the need for end-of-life care and services in the First Nations communities,” says Dr. Brazil, noting that, “Not only is this a chance to improve and make services more accessible for Aboriginal people in First Nations communities, but it becomes a mutual learning opportunity for everyone involved.”

This research project is a collaborative effort by a team of researchers, Aboriginal health organizations, and the four First Nations communities who have committed to work together for five years while developing palliative care services and knowledge within their communities.

Dr. Brian Stevenson, President, Lakehead University, says, “This palliative care project is an exciting initiative in the best tradition of action-oriented research. What might be equally important, though, is that this research team has shown the rest of us the way to holistically combine research, service development and community engagement.  As is so often the case, the best way to develop a new strategy is to copy the actions of the people who are already doing it. Thank you to all for this very exciting new approach.”

“All researchers, First Nations community members, and decision makers involved in this project should be extremely proud of the work this model has and will surely continue to accomplish,” exclaims Dr. Rui Wang, Vice-President, Lakehead University.  “This milestone achievement is reflective of genuine teamwork that spans community borders, and will pave the way for future benefits concerning Lakehead’s research portfolio.”  Dr. Wang expects this achievement to progress Lakehead’s standing as one of Canada’s top 25 research-intensive universities, as well as the creation of continued and much-needed community-based partnerships, improved infrastructure for future grants, and positive implications for the University’s overall reputation as a world-class research facility.