Mac gets $13.2 million for health research projects

Total is a third of what health ministry is handing out province-wide

By JOANNA FRKETICH

Hamilton got one-third of the health research dollars given out by the province to high-profile projects such as updating the prevalence of children’s mental health and improving inner-city neighbourhoods, created in response to The Spectator’s Code Red series.

“This really is a testament to the quality of the research, ” said Mo Elbestawi, McMaster University’s vice-president of research and international affairs. “McMaster is a major player when it comes to health care research and the results are a clear indication this is the case.”

Four of the 11 projects funded by the Health System Research Fund are based at McMaster, accounting for $13.2 million of the $40.5 million being given out over three years.

“Health research makes an essential contribution to improved patient care, ” said Health Minister Deb Matthews. “That’s why we’re supporting health research projects that will help our health providers deliver the best evidence-based care to the people of Ontario.”

One project will help improve neighbourhoods identified by the multi-award-winning Spectator series Code Red, which found staggering disparities in the lifespans and health outcomes of people living in different parts of the city.

The series by investigative reporter Steve Buist, McMaster epidemiologist Neil Johnston and Pat DeLuca of McMaster’s School of Geography and Earth Sciences helped create Hamilton Neighbourhood Action Planning.

Researcher Dr. James Dunn is getting $1.9 million to help determine what the communities need and whether the Hamilton action plan program is working.

“It’s unusual for researchers to work quite so closely with people in policy but the idea is that as we collect this data, it can inform the policy as it unfolds, ” said Dunn.

The money will also support a number of other community-based projects Dunn is working on, including a study of whether neighbourhoods designed to encourage walking really do result in residents getting more physical activity.

“This is one of the few grants about social determinants of health, ” said Dunn. “Most of the grants given are about better delivery of health services. I’m very encouraged they decided to support the grant.”

One of the most anticipated is the sequel to Hamilton’s renowned Ontario Child Health Study which 30 years ago found that one in five kids experiences a mental disorder.

Dr. Michael Boyle, one of the original researchers, intends to replicate and expand the study to update the results.

However, he was in danger of not being able to go forward after having his budget cut by 25 per cent by the main funder, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The province gave his team $3 million to fill the gap.

“The ministry of health funding is critically important, ” said Boyle. “In our case, our costs were fixed. We don’t have wiggle room.”

The other projects include $3.3 million to study optimal aging at home and $5 million to analyze health system performance including inequities of access and the impact of family doctors.

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