Nathan Skolski

Email: nathanskolski@okmain.cms.ok.ubc.ca


 

Aerial view of UBC Okanagan

Projects will look at improving N95 masks, mental health and well-being

The BC Ministry of Health is investing in BC Interior research universities to understand the harmful effects of COVID-19 and mitigate its impact on communities across the province.

The province has funded five collaborative research projects through the Interior University Research Coalition (IURC), a partnership between Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Kamloops, the University of British Columbia, Okanagan (UBCO) in Kelowna and the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) in Prince George.

The projects being funded range from identifying the effects of the pandemic on the mental health and well-being of people living in rural communities to developing telehealth programs that will engage older adults outside urban centres. Other projects include a focus on improving the lifespan of N95 masks, as well as building a better understanding of whether new technologies are improving the resiliency of rural health-care practitioners.

“This is a win-win-win situation for the province, for the universities, and for the communities we serve in terms of the impact this research will have on the health and quality of life for the people who live there,” says Will Garrett-Petts, associate vice-president, research and graduate studies at TRU.

He adds that the IURC has developed a model that can ensure responsible and innovative research.

“The work we’re doing is meaningful and is guided by the interests of the local and regional communities,” he says. “This is a wonderful model of collaboration, and one we are collectively celebrating.”

UBC Okanagan’s Vice-Principal and Associate Vice-President for Research and Innovation Phil Barker agrees. He says his campus is especially excited to be working on an initiative that is highly collaborative and that spans campuses and institutions across the BC interior.

“We’re delighted that the BC Ministry of Health is investing in this initiative to help mitigate the effects of COVID-19 throughout our province,” explains Barker. “Our researchers have been able to mobilize quickly through the tri-university partnership and each of the selected projects will leverage our respective strengths to serve communities across BC.”

The BC Ministry of Health has provided the IURC with $150,000 to launch this initiative. The IURC was established in 2017 to advance the research and innovation capacity and commercialization potential of the BC Interior and create new opportunities for economic and social innovation. The inaugural funding is focused largely on COVID-19 issues that affect the BC Interior but the results from these projects will help support regional and provincial health care decision-making and provide real-world opportunities for students to gain experience in the complex, ever-changing realm of health care.

“When researchers from different institutions collaborate across disciplines, the research outcomes benefit from different perspectives and synergies that result from cross-institutional collaboration,” says Kathy Lewis, acting vice-president of research at UNBC. “These projects are fantastic examples of what’s possible when researchers from across the BC Interior come together and seek solutions to pressing public health concerns.”

About the projects

  • Shannon Freeman, associate professor in UNBC’s School of Nursing, has partnered with Piper Jackson, assistant professor of computer science at TRU, to develop a COVID-19 risk assessment tool that identifies homecare clients who are at greatest risk of contracting the virus.
  • Jian Liu and Abbas Milani of UBCO’s School of Engineering will be working with Hossein Kazemian of UNBC to improve the lifespan of nanofibres and activated carbon mats in N95 masks.
  • Brodie Sakakibara, assistant professor in UBCO’s Southern Medical Program and investigator in the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management, is working with researchers at UBCO, UNBC and Interior Health to create a student-delivered Community Outreach Telehealth Program that will engage older adults from outside urban centres and establish best practices for providing health support during a pandemic.
  • TRU’s Bala Nikku has teamed up with Khalad Hasan from UBCO and Rahul Jain from UNBC to better understand whether new technologies are improving the resiliency of rural health care practitioners.
  • Nelly Oelke, associate professor in UBCO’s School of Nursing and scientific director of the Rural Coordination Centre of BC, will be collaborating with UBCO’s Donna Kurtz, UNBC’s Davina Banner-Lukaris and TRU’s Bonnie Fournier to expand ongoing research that explores the mental health impacts of climate change events. The new study will identify the effects of the pandemic on the mental health and well-being of people living in rural communities to help foster resilience.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

COVID-19 shouldn't be an excuse to skip Valentine's Day.

COVID-19 needn't be an excuse to skip Valentine's Day.

UBCO researcher offers advice on stress reduction, relationship maintenance

Unfortunately, love isn’t the only thing on people’s minds this Valentine’s Day season.

The spread of COVID-19 and its new variants, paired with public health orders, have forced some couples to reconsider their Valentine’s Day plans.

But is it really the roses, fancy chocolates and in-person dining experiences that show someone how much you care for them?

Dr. Jessica Lougheed, an assistant professor of psychology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, researches interpersonal emotion dynamics. As February 14 fast approaches, Lougheed  shares some tips for a virtual Valentine's Day:

Physical distancing due to COVID-19 has forced some people to change the way they spend time with their partners. Why is it emotionally difficult for humans to not have physical contact with loved ones?

There’s a growing body of research that shows humans have evolved to function optimally when we’re physically closer to the ones we love. For example, data has shown that our brains are better able to process potential threats and stressors in our environment if we have actual physical contact with someone we love—like hand-holding.

Obviously, many humans have been deprived of this physical contact due to the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean all is lost—it just means we need to find new ways of connecting to others and managing stress.

How is stress related to mood—and can it impact how we treat our partners?

Stress is closely related to mood. While people have different emotional responses to it, stress can increase one’s irritability and make them feel flatter emotional responses to both good and bad. It can also make people feel like they’re just having a more difficult time navigating the multiple dimensions of day-to-day life like chores, running a household, school, work, kids, friends—all of these things can seem more difficult without the physical support of your partner or close social contacts.

Staying connected, even virtually, helps share the burden of the emotional loads that we’re all carrying around right now. If we don’t take the time to resolve our stress, it can grow over time, and indeed negatively affect our interpersonal relationships. So my recommendation is to acknowledge stress and then find an outlet for it—it could be physical exercise, safely spending time outdoors or even having a good cry, which can really help end the stress response cycle.

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching—what advice do you have for those who aren’t comfortable with celebrating in-person, but have a partner who wants to see them?

Being upfront and honest with your partner is by far the best thing you can do—and have the conversation early on, don’t leave it to the last minute. Everyone has a different personal comfort level with managing risks related to COVID-19. Perhaps it stems from living in a multi-generational household or working with someone who has a weakened immune system—no matter what the reasoning, it’s important to emphasize it’s not about not wanting to see your partner. It’s about public health orders and keeping the community safe.

All relationships require ongoing effort to maintain them. You don’t just find a partner and everything is wonderful. Instead, solid, healthy relationships are built on a foundation of honesty, love and care.

Can you have a meaningful Valentine’s Day while apart?

Absolutely! Plenty of businesses offer virtual Valentine’s Day events like wine tastings or art classes. There are all sorts of special activities couples can do together while being apart—it just may require some creative thinking.

I also want to note that it’s actually the little gestures over time that make the biggest impact. Think about sending your partner a message to let them know they’re on your mind or how much you appreciate them working together to solve a problem—showing you value the little, everyday actions are as important as the grand gestures in maintaining a healthy relationship.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Simulation session in the KGH emergency department. Note: in order to conserve PPE, the team pictured here is wearing PPE appropriate for simulation but not bedside patient care.

Training protocols support learning and build confidence for front-line staff

In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, physicians and allied health professionals in BC and across the country ramped up patient simulation training to prepare for the impending health care crisis.

Research from the Southern Medical Program (SMP) based at UBC Okanagan is highlighting a new pandemic simulation guide as a critical resource for helping the provincial health care system stay up to date.

Patient simulation serves an integral tool to support and test a health care system’s emergency preparedness for multiple scenarios including a pandemic. However, ready access to equipment, space and resources varies greatly by community especially those situated in rural and remote settings.

As cases of COVID-19 started appearing across BC, Dr. Jared Baylis and the Interior Health simulation team fielded an urgent and heightened number of requests for simulation training as hospitals and communities grappled with how to safely treat an influx of sick and contagious patients.

“The stakes were high as health care teams looked to simulation to help effectively manage COVID-19 patients and ensure the safety of front-line staff,” says Baylis, an emergency medicine physician and simulation lead with the SMP and Interior Health (IH).

In response, Baylis and the IH simulation team worked rapidly to develop a standardized set of protocols that could support the safe delivery of simulation exercises regardless of the environment. In rural hospitals and clinics where space is often limited or unavailable, training must be conducted on the wards or in other clinical spaces such as operating rooms.

The COVID-19 Simulation Guide gives simulation educators, from novice to expert, the tools and resources to facilitate training that allow participants to feel safe, learn from the sessions and prepare to confidently handle COVID-19 cases within their unique clinical environments.

“We want to ensure exercises are productive, respect physical distance measures, and optimize the use of personal protective equipment,” adds Baylis. “Our hope is to build capacity for COVID-19 training across BC, particularly within rural areas that lack access to dedicated simulation resources.”

A recent study by fourth-year SMP student Hilary Drake highlighted the guide’s impact and broad use within the health care community in BC and beyond. The guide is available to download for free from the BC Simulation Network website.

“The guide has enabled health care professionals with little to no simulation experience conduct successful COVID-19 simulation sessions,” says Drake. “It has supported learning from across the continuum of care from emergency departments and intensive care units to long-term care facilities and primary care settings.”

The study was recently published in the Journal of the Society for Simulation in Healthcare.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

The survey showed that 80 per cent of respondents indicated a willingness to use telehealth for follow-up appointments as part of their Parkinson’s treatment.

The survey showed that 80 per cent of respondents indicated a willingness to use telehealth for follow-up appointments as part of their Parkinson’s treatment.

Expanded access to specialized care and reduced travel key benefits for patients and caregivers

New research from the UBC Southern Medical Program (SMP) supports the use of telehealth in the care of Parkinson’s patients in rural communities, particularly within the Interior Health region.

The treatment of Parkinson’s disease is highly complex and relies heavily on a patient’s changes in their physical features over time, such as the rigidity of muscles and movement of limbs. As these characteristics can vary significantly between patients, personalized treatment plans must reflect individual circumstances and other lifestyle factors.

Fourth-year SMP student Dakota Peacock and lead author of the new study underscores the need for Parkinson’s patients to have access to quality health care regardless of the size and location of their home community.

Within the BC Interior’s vast and mountainous landscapes, lengthy travel times and hazardous road conditions, especially during the winter months, can provide additional barriers to patients and their caregivers. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic increase in the need for virtual health care options to support patients remotely.

“The focus of our study was to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by Parkinson’s patients within Interior Health region in accessing specialized care,” says Peacock. “We also sought to assess their potential willingness to use telehealth technologies in supporting their health and well-being.”

Dr. Daryl Wile, neurologist with the Okanagan Movement Disorder Clinic and study co-author, acknowledges the effectiveness of telehealth in Parkinson’s care is yet to be established. However, he believes certain aspects of physical exams are less critical in follow-up appointments and could be delivered remotely.

“To use telemedicine for people with Parkinson’s Disease we need to understand how we can adapt the tools we have to the many different types of symptoms they may be facing,” says Wile, clinical assistant professor with the SMP based at UBC Okanagan.

Based on the survey results, 80 per cent of respondents indicated a willingness to use telehealth for follow-up appointments as part of their Parkinson’s treatment. Key challenges reported including difficulty accessing specialized care closer to home and the financial and emotional toll of travel on caregivers or family members.

“It’s encouraging that we could potentially minimize some of the barriers and stressors for Parkinson’s patients in accessing care, but fully recognize there is no one-size-fits-all approach,” adds Peacock.

The UBC study was recently published in the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Understanding how gut mucus packages microbiota could lead to new ways of disease detection 

Gut mucus. It may not be everyone’s favourite subject, but new research from UBC Okanagan has found it’s more complex and intimately linked to the body’s microbiota than previously thought.

Microbiota is a physiological force made up of microbes—mostly bacteria, fungi and viruses. While it often does good, like extracting energy from diet, warding off pathogens and promoting a healthy immune system, if it’s off-balance, it can also work against the body to promote illnesses like cancer, inflammation and obesity.

Working with colleagues at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, UBCO researchers recently published a study in Science examining this new-found relationship, why it matters, and how it may lead to less-invasive disease screening.

Kirk Bergstrom is an assistant professor of biology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science and co-lead author of the study.

Let’s talk mucus. What are the misconceptions about it and how is it useful for our bodies?

I think people associate mucus with being sticky, gooey and kind of gross—but in the gut, it’s actually really important physiologically, and can protect from microbiota-driven diseases like cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about it, and that’s because it’s really complicated, decorated with thousands of sugar structures we call O-glycans that make up most of the molecule. It’s also hard to access so we could never get a lot of it to study.

Your study provides some new insight into how the mucus system works. Can you elaborate on this?

It was long-thought that mucus was continually produced along the entire length of the gut, especially in the colon, and that it stuck to the tissue to form a barrier to these microbes. It was thought to be immobile and have an overall similar chemical composition throughout.

Our study essentially showed the opposite. We found that the mucus does not attach to tissue, it attaches to the microbiota within the fecal mass, forming a seal around the community as it moves through the colon.  It’s also made up of two chemical sugar ‘flavours’—a dominant one is produced way up in the first part of the colon and the other, previously undiscovered kind, is formed in the lower colon.

What’s also really interesting is that the microbes themselves promote their own sealing by boosting production of the mucus in the first part of the colon. The sugars on this mucus then influence the types of microbes that thrive, the molecules they produce and where they position themselves in the gut.  All this, we believe, promotes their good functions, for example, by preventing unwanted inflammation.

How do your study results help advance knowledge in the field, and what impact could they have for the general public? 

Discovering this connection between mucus, its sugars, and microbes really changes how we view our microbial friends and how they live, move and behave in the gut. This has implications for microbial transmission—once they are packaged up, how does this influence where they ultimately go? How do pathogens escape this sealing and cause disease?

Another really exciting opportunity is that since the mucus system is attached to the fecal mass, this opens the door to easier non-invasive ways of accessing mucus, and that’s going to lead to a better understanding of its chemistry and biology. In line with this, we envision new opportunities for non-invasive biomarker discovery for chronic diseases like inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer, since changes in the mucus sugars can be early warning signs for disease, we can potentially easily screen from these markers without the need for uncomfortable biopsies and endoscopies.

Where do you go from here? 

These were pre-clinical studies, meaning they were conducted using mouse models, which are essential biologic tools for health researchers. However, our next step is to take these results and replicate them in humans. Actually, our study already shows evidence that a similar mucus formation mechanism is present in humans, but we want to dig deeper to see if microbes influence this as we move forward.

We also want to begin using this new understanding and way of analyzing mucus in fecal samples to explore how things like diet, antibiotics, lifestyle or disease impact the structure and composition of the mucus.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

Bergstrom would like to thank his mentor Lijun Xia, and colleagues Xindi Shan, Wesley Zandberg, Deanna Gibson and Sepideh Pakpour for their contributions to this research.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

A new study from UBC Okanagan examines how using social media impacts happiness.

A new study from UBC Okanagan examines how using social media impacts happiness.

Passively scrolling through posts may not result in feelings of happiness

New research from UBC Okanagan indicates what’s most important for overall happiness is how a person uses social media.

Derrick Wirtz, an associate professor of teaching in psychology at the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, took a close look at how people use three major social platforms—Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—and how that use can impact a person’s overall well-being.

“Social network sites are an integral part of everyday life for many people around the world,” says Wirtz. “Every day, billions of people interact with social media. Yet the widespread use of social network sites stands in sharp contrast to a comparatively small body of research on how this use impacts a person’s happiness.”

Even before COVID-19 and self-isolation became standard practice, Wirtz says social media has transformed how we interact with others. Face-to-face, in-person contact is now matched or exceeded by online social interactions as the primary way people connect. While most people gain happiness from interacting with others face-to-face, Wirtz notes that some come away from using social media with a feeling of negativity—for a variety of different reasons.

One issue is social comparison. Participants in Wirtz’s study said the more they compared themselves to others while using social media, the less happy they felt.

“Viewing images and updates that selectively portray others positively may lead social media users to underestimate how much others actually experience negative emotions and lead people to conclude that their own life—with its mix of positive and negative feelings—is, by comparison, not as good,” he says.

Wirtz notes that viewing other people’s posts and images while not interacting with them lends itself to comparison without the mood-boosting benefits that ordinarily follow social contact, undermining well-being and reducing self-esteem. “Passive use, scrolling through others’ posts and updates, involves little person-to-person reciprocal interaction while providing ample opportunity for upward comparison.”

As part of his research, study participants were asked about four specific functions of Facebook—checking a news feed, messaging, catching up on world news and posting status or picture updates. The most frequently used function was passively checking one’s news feed. Participants primarily used Facebook without directly connecting with other users, and the negative effects on subjective well-being were consistent with this form of use.

During COVID-19, Wirtz notes people naturally turn to social media to reduce feelings of social isolation. Yet, his research (conducted before the pandemic) found that although people used social media more when they were lonely, time spent on social media only increased feelings of loneliness for participants in the study. “Today, the necessity of seeing and hearing friends and family only through social media due to COVID-19 might serve as a reminder of missed opportunities to spend time together.”

The more people used any of these three social media sites, the more negative they reported feeling afterwards. “The three social network sites examined—Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—yielded remarkably convergent findings,” he says. “The more respondents had recently used these sites, either in aggregate or individually, the more negative effect they reported when they responded to our randomly-timed surveys over a 10-day period.”

Wirtz’s study also included offline interactions with others, either face-to-face or a phone call. Comparing both offline communication with online, he was able to demonstrate that offline social interaction had precisely the opposite effect of using social media, strongly enhancing emotional well-being.

But all is not lost, Wirtz says, as this research also reveals how people can use social media positively, something more important than ever during COVID-19. He suggests people avoid passively scrolling and resist comparing themselves to other social media users. He also says people should use social media sites to enable direct interactions and social connectedness—for example, talking online synchronously or arranging time spent with others in-person, when possible and with proper precautions.

“If we all remember to do that, the negative impact of social media use could be reduced—and social networks sites could even have the potential to improve our well-being and happiness,” he adds. “In other words, we need to remember how we use social media has the potential to shape the effects on our day-to-day happiness.”

Wirtz’s study was recently published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Researchers say there is no consistent way to evaluate the quality of care

New research is proposing a novel screening tool to assess the quality of care in kinship foster care placement settings.

Kinship caregiving—placing a child in a relative’s home if the child cannot safely stay in the family home—is becoming more common and is a preferred option for children, says UBC Okanagan Assistant Professor Sarah Dow-Fleisner.

Sarah Dow-Fleisner, assistant professor of social work.

Sarah Dow-Fleisner, assistant professor of social work.

The study, originally conducted at the Children and Family Research Center as part of the University of Illinois School of Social Work, was reanalyzed by UBCO student Kathrine Stene as part of an honours thesis in psychology and completed by researchers at UBCO’s Centre for the Study of Services to Children and Families.

While it seems to make sense to keep a child with a relative, Dow-Fleisner says there are no clear screening tools for agencies to use that address the unique circumstance of kinship caregiving—which is in stark contrast to the tools available when screening voluntary non-relative foster caregivers.

“Kinship care can be an informal or formal placement arranged between individuals related to the youth, either biologically, culturally or legally through marriage,” says Dow-Fleisner, who teaches in the School of Social Work. “And while this placement type is preferred as it maintains family connection and cultural ties for the child, there are no standardized and validated measures available to evaluate the quality of care available in those unique placements.”

The problem, according to Susan Wells, professor emerita of psychology and social work and principal investigator of the original project, is that there is very little research examining the measurement of quality of care within kinship placement settings.

“We need the development of a scale for assessing the quality of care in a kinship setting and also explore to see if such a tool would work consistently,” says Wells. “Considering the differences between kinship and traditional foster care placements it is necessary that a standardized measure of quality of care be available for use in a kinship care setting.”

To address the problem, researchers conducted focus groups with caregivers, children and caseworkers and then extensively reviewed the literature to develop a tool to measure the quality of care unique to kinship settings. The final tool includes 36 items that fall into five key criteria for kinship settings, including the caregiver’s capacity to meet the child’s needs, their commitment and acceptance of foster caregiving, their social functioning, their ability to protect the child from maltreatment and neighbourhood support.

Each aspect has the potential to provide insight into interventions and supports to improve the quality of care.

“This measure has the potential to be utilized by child protection workers as part of the initial assessment for placement in kinship settings and for ongoing screening, and could be used in conjunction with other screening tools,” Dow-Fleisner says. “By using these measures together, caseworkers may be able to determine which services, or lack thereof, impact the quality of care provided for children in kinship placements.”

The research, published recently in the Children and Youth Services Review, was conducted through the  Centre for the Study of Services to Children and Families, which is funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation. For more about the centre, visit: csscf.ok.ubc.ca

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Shelly Ben-David, assistant professor at UBC Okanagan’s School of Social Work, examines the early stages of psychosis in young people.

Shelly Ben-David, assistant professor at UBC Okanagan’s School of Social Work, examines the early stages of psychosis in young people.

A young person’s sense of personal identity might be lost or diminished

New UBC research is highlighting the need for improved training when it comes to helping young people living with psychosis determine their sense of identity. “Identity development is a normal part of growing up and generally happens when someone is in their late adolescence or early adult years,” explains Shelly Ben-David, assistant professor at UBC Okanagan’s School of Social Work and study lead author. “It’s that time in life when a young person starts asking who they are and exploring their personal goals, their own values and even their role in life.” But at this stage in life, when personal identity is being explored and acknowledged, young people might also have their first experience with a mental health issue such as psychosis—if that happens, those young people may have a difficult time clearly defining their personal identity or even a sense of worth. “The onset of psychosis in adolescence or young adulthood has the potential to dramatically interfere with identity-related processes”, says David Kealy, assistant professor with UBC Vancouver’s department of psychiatry and study co-author. “This creates an entire level of vulnerability for youth to contend with in their early psychosis recovery.” Kealy explains that psychotic disorders are stigmatized in society and that can lead to a negative sense of self in a young person. “This can become a profound obstacle for someone in the beginning stages of their adulthood,” he adds. Ben-David says part of the solution is early intervention, since the longer the psychosis goes untreated, the worse the outcome. “Current psychosis treatment often tends to not focus on identity development and indeed our study shows that there’s a lack of training in this area,” says Ben-David. With that in mind, the researchers surveyed more than 300 multi-professional clinicians working in early psychosis intervention programs in BC. They found that only half of those surveyed felt they had a high level of confidence in their ability to address issues related to identity in treatment—revealing a gap between clinicians' recognition of the importance of identity as a concern and their capacity to help their clients with this issue in a consistent and meaningful way. “Our findings indicate a need for early psychosis programs to invest in identity-related training for clinicians,” says Ben-David. “Next steps are to work closely with the community to explore the impact of identity-focused interventions in the early stages of psychosis.” “Our goal is to help as many young people as possible.” Their research, funded by the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research and a UBC Collaborative Research Mobility Award, was published recently in Early Intervention in Psychiatry.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca
The COVID-19 Disability Survey will capture perspectives from Canadians with different types of disabilities and their family members.

The COVID-19 Disability Survey will capture perspectives from Canadians with different types of disabilities and their family members.

Findings will help ensure strategies meet the needs of people of all abilities

COVID-19 has created an entirely new set of challenges for the more than 6.2 million Canadians living with a disability, says UBC Professor Kathleen Martin Ginis.

While physical distancing and other public health measures such as face masks have become staples of daily life, researchers and community-support organizations are sounding the alarm over the potential health impacts and greater support needed for Canadians living with disabilities.

“We are deeply concerned for the many people struggling with increased social isolation and reduced access to programs that support their physical and mental health and overall well-being,” says Martin Ginis, director of the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management based at UBC Okanagan. “We need to fully understand the scope and complexity of these challenges as the pandemic continues for the foreseeable future.”

The growing knowledge gap has led UBC researchers to team up with Ontario-based disability resource organization the Abilities Centre. Together they have launched a national COVID-19 disability survey as part of the Access Project, an Abilities Centre response to crisis recovery aimed to support all Canadians.

“While the full health impact of COVID-19 may take years to fully understand, the immediate needs of Canadians living with disabilities must be addressed,” says Stuart McReynolds, president and chief executive officer with the Abilities Centre. “The survey findings will greatly assist government and community organizations to determine key priorities and areas of support.”

The survey, led by Abilities Centre staff along with UBC researchers Martin Ginis, Joan Ubeda Colomer and Femke Hoekstra and Queens’s University researcher Amy Latimer-Cheung, will give a voice to many Canadians living with a disability. Data from the survey will help evaluate and enhance new policies and community support programs.

All Canadians who identify as having a disability—such as physical, cognitive or sensory— or having a child or family member living with a disability in their household are asked to share their unique experiences and concerns while navigating COVID-19.

To ensure accessibility, this survey is available in French, English and American Sign Language. Additionally, this survey formatting includes headings suitable for screen reader software, increased font size and colour contrast.

Martin Ginis says there is also an opportunity for participants to complete an additional series of questionnaires describing circumstances while public health measures remain in place. Their feedback will directly impact how policymakers, businesses and organizations across Canada develop policies, processes and services through the lens of accessibility and inclusion.

“This is an opportunity for people with disabilities to share how their experiences in accessing services during COVID-19 has impacted their physical, mental and social health,” says Martin Ginis. “It’s imperative the voices and concerns of Canadians living with disabilities are reflected in the public health response to COVID-19.”

To participate in the COVID-19 Disability Survey, visit: abilitiescentre.org/disabilitysurvey. For more information, contact: disabilitysurvey@abilitiescentre.org or call 1 866 639 1858.

About the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management

Based at UBC Okanagan, the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management (CCDPM) serves as a provincial leader for research, knowledge translation and exchange in the urgent research field of chronic disease prevention. The CCDPM is the UBC Faculty of Medicine’s first research centre located outside of the Lower Mainland.

To learn more, visit: ccdpm.med.ubc.ca

About the Abilities Centre

One of the only organizations in Canada with a comprehensive approach to inclusion and accessibility, the Abilities Centre strives to make communities more accessible and inclusive to increase quality of life for every individual and enable them to participate fully in community and economic life.

As a community hub, living lab and inclusion incubator, Abilities Centre engages individuals and communities in programs, leads research and advocacy on inclusion issues, and develops innovative frameworks for programs that are replicable, scalable and customizable to the needs of local communities in Durham Region and across Ontario and Canada.

Learn more at: abilitiescentre.org

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Don’t treat a COVID-19 vaccine like we did toilet paper

Health inequity and vaccine nationalism undermines health for all

With governments around the world seeking to develop and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine and put a stop to the spread of the virus, one UBC Okanagan researcher says we should resist the urge to engage in nationalist policies for global health issues.

Katrina Plamondon is an assistant professor in UBCO’s School of Nursing and through her work with the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research (CCGHR) and Canadian Society for International Health, recently collected over 100 signatures of health and policy experts from across Canada calling on governments to engage in an equitable approach to vaccine development.

She explains how health equity is important in battling current and future pandemics and health crises.

What do you mean when you talk about health equity?

Health equity is an aspiration! It’s about striving for a world where, regardless of nationality, social class, education or other social and economic factors, people can live to their full potential, with access to things like quality health care, clean and safe drinking water, access to education and freedom from violence. It is closely tied to the ideals described in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and core values that most Canadians subscribe to, and are central to what our government argues for on the international stage.

How has COVID-19 affected equity around the world?

Before exploring the pandemic’s impact on health equity, I think it’s important to understand that systemic and pervasive health inequities were present long before COVID-19 entered our lives. The pandemic simply exposed them. We’re seeing today that navigating life during a pandemic is far more complex for people who were already in a position of social disadvantage.

And of course, the virus itself doesn’t discriminate. Though race-based data is limited in Canada, we know that Indigenous, Asian and other visible minorities are suffering disproportionately greater burdens of both this disease and social and economic impacts of policies related to it. There is no biological reason why Black Americans are hospitalized and dying at disproportionately alarming rates in the US, or why migrant agricultural workers in Canada are over-represented in COVID-19 outbreaks. Issues of equity are systemic and deeply rooted issues around things like systemic racism and how it differentially shapes housing, social mobility, economic opportunities and access to basic services.

How can you wash your hands, for example, if you have no home, or live in a refugee camp with no reliable access to clean water? How can you stay home from work when you’re sick, if staying home means you could lose your job?

You’ve spoken of ‘vaccine nationalism.’ What does that mean?

Governments around the world are under enormous political pressure to develop, manufacture and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible. Some wealthy countries, including Canada, have signed contracts with vaccine manufacturers to secure doses for exclusive use within their borders. That, in turn, has put further pressure on other countries to do the same. We are all served best when the vaccine is distributed equitably and universally, with science and respect for our shared humanity, rather than nationalism, dictating who gets the first doses and when.

I can’t help but draw a parallel between this national vaccine ‘hoarding’ and the panic to buy toilet paper in the early days of the pandemic. Though often described as irrational and unhelpful, many of us got caught up in the scramble. We couldn’t see that there was more than enough to go around, provided we all took only what we needed when we needed it. Likewise, if we work together to leverage the resources we share globally, aiming to protect our collective global health, everyone could have access to what is needed when it is needed.

What can we do to ensure equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine?

Before we can consider what to do, we should think about why we should do it. Canada, and all of its citizens, have moral obligations to improve the health of humanity as a whole. There are issues that are inherently global, that affect the health of all people, everywhere. COVID-19 is not the only issue like this, and future pandemics are entirely possible.

Our collective futures depend on our capacity to respond as a global community. What we do today matters now, and long into the future. We need to ensure that health equity is a key component of local, national and global health policies. And Canada has an important role to play. While we aren’t a global superpower, we are an influential middle power and I think we can take global health policy positions, especially around a COVID-19 vaccine, that shows the world how to make sure health of all of humanity isn’t sacrificed for national interests.

Has COVID-19 created an opportunity to rethink public health policy?

There’s no doubt that talking about health equity during a global health crisis can be extremely challenging! I have also never before been so hopeful for the future of humanity. The entire world is singularly focused on solving this emergency with some of the greatest minds working around the clock.

We are at an inflection point where existing systems and structures are primed to be reinvented and improved. That’s something we haven’t seen since the end of World War II. This pandemic offers a real opportunity to create new equity-centred policies and programs that prioritize creating a more balanced, equitable future for humanity.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca