Two Ryerson professors are leading new equity-based research to help improve patient outcomes in long-term care homes and food insecurity in Black households.
Based on their previous work, both professors have found that diverse communities are disproportionately affected by social issues that the pandemic has accelerated, highlighting the need for more equity-based research.
Susan Bookey-Bassett and Olufunke Oba will look at the lack of relational care in long-term care homes and the systemic racism that has impacted food insecurity throughout the pandemic.
With about $25,000 each secured in funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the findings will inform governmental policy recommendations to better address the issues.
“The diversity of older adults who are now living in long-term care homes is much more variable than it used to be 10 years ago,” said Bookey-Bassett, an assistant professor at Ryerson’s School of Nursing.
She noted that different socio-economic factors such as ethnic backgrounds, language barriers, complex medical conditions and sexual orientations have never been studied from the lens of patient safety.
The crux of their research is to engage residents who are part of those diverse groups and understand how they perceive safety in long-term care.
“We hope to use the findings to inform new practices in long-term care home settings, inform education for health-care professionals and others working in long-term care,” said Bookey-Bassett. “The goal is to ultimately influence government legislation and policy to think about long-term care safety in a bigger way than the regulations that are currently in place.”
Once they understand the correlations between equity and patient outcomes in long-term care, Bookey-Bassett said a ‘teamwork’ approach requiring the qualifications of multiple health-care workers from various backgrounds and disciplines will most likely be the next steps in providing better care to residents.
She said this type of research is significant because the pandemic has highlighted the lack of relational care in long-term care homes, a nursing philosophy that focuses on building stronger relationships with residents and leads to better patient outcomes.
The Ontario Ministry of Long-Term Care said they recognize the increasingly complex and diverse needs of residents in an email statement, citing that the sector will need to grow and adapt to accommodate the diverse needs of populations through the introduction of a new bill, the Fixing Long-Term Care Act, 2021.
“The proposed Bill would expand our recognition of the importance of residents’ relationships with their families, caregivers and staff and of residents’ diverse needs, individual identity and history. If passed, it would also expand the Residents’ Bill of Rights by adding a new right to the ongoing and safe support from a resident’s caregivers and update the Residents’ Bill of Rights to align with the grounds of discrimination in the Ontario Human Rights Code, 1990.”
Oba, an assistant professor at the Ryerson School of Social Work that has taken the lead on researching how COVID-19 has impacted food insecurity in Black Canadian households, has also found that ethnic communities are disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
“Based on the literature, we can say that a lot of Black families and individuals might be in precarious, low-income jobs where if they don’t go in, they don’t get paid,” she explained.
This means that if Black employees stay home, they would see less money on their paycheques, but if they do go to work, they are put at greater risk for catching the virus.
“So we want to know, if people are losing wages, if people are at more risk of coming into contact with COVID-19, then what’s happening at home?”
Oba said the problem has led to a lack of food security, especially among racialized households with children, because lunch programs and foodbank services that families were relying on were forced to close amid pandemic lockdowns.
She said families that have not needed the help of food services in the past may also require access to these resources more now than before due to the impacts of the pandemic on wages and food accessibility.
Oba said some barriers typically affect this type of research, such as the potential to play into cultural stigmas that paint Black communities in a harmful light, resulting in the appropriation of knowledge without any meaningful action.
However, she said she is confident they can overcome these narratives through Black representation that focuses on driving social change by working with the directly-impacted communities.
“We have the goodwill of the community,” said Oba. “The beauty of Black-led research is that you’re carrying the community along the whole way there. It’s driven by them.”
Oba said the food charities that the government has historically focused on are not reaching these communities because they are culturally stigmatizing.
This is why her research aims to make food services more accessible and culturally responsive to those most in need and to demystify the stigma around reaching out to ask for help.
“We want to provide services that are acceptable and accessible, and that do not stigmatize people,” said Oba. “Often, people are reluctant to access services because they are not culturally responsive, but rather, stigmatizing to communities.”
The provincial government responded to the research in an email statement claiming that they have invested over $1 billion to the Social Services Relief Fund to support local needs, emergency shelters and food banks, amongst two other initiatives:
“The government recognizes the different experiences of poverty and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on some populations, including the Black community. The Building a Strong Foundation for Success: Reducing Poverty in Ontario strategy specifically acknowledges this in its plan to support more people get back to work and participate in the economic recovery from COVID-19,” the statement said.
The province says it also doubled the funding for the Black Youth Action Plan by an additional $60 million over three years. This new investment includes $2.25 million to help Black communities address the disproportionate impact they have experienced. The funding will be used to provide urgent supports to children, youth and families for housing needs, food security, access to technology, education, income, health, and mental health supports.
Steven Lissin, Ryerson’s vice-president of research and innovation, congratulated Bookey-Bassett and Oba on their new research projects in a press release.
“The funding secured through these SSHRC programs will enable our researchers to continue to strive for solutions to some of the most pressing challenges being faced by our society today.”