Brock University and Niagara Region Public Health and Emergency Services are neighbours located across the street from each other on Sir Isaac Brock Way, but the links connecting the two organizations run far deeper than geography.
For many years, Brock and Public Health have been working together on joint research, experiential education opportunities, career events and guest lectures. That partnership was formalized Friday, Sept. 13, when Dr. M. Mustafa Hirji, Acting Medical Officer of Health for Niagara Region, and Gervan Fearon, President of Brock University, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The signing took place in a fourth-year Child Health class at Brock taught by Health Sciences Professor Terry Wade.
Fearon said one of Brock’s strategic priorities is to support the health and vitality of local communities, and partnering with Public Health is an effective way to help make a meaningful difference.
“Besides providing invaluable experiential education opportunities for students, this collaboration will cross many disciplines and identify prospects for research in a host of areas,” said Fearon. “Brock can engage numerous departments to assist in addressing health issues through a transdisciplinary approach involving scholars from biology to health promotion to urban planning.”
Hirji said Brock and Public Health share a common goal.
“Success in our department’s goal for Niagara to become one of the 25 healthiest communities in Canada depends on every institution that influences health using solid science and evidence,” he said. “Deepening our partnership with Brock University will allow a synergy of our on-the-ground insight into people’s health with Brock’s research prowess, thereby ensuring our community has the best scientific evidence.”
Brock Faculty of Applied Health Sciences Dean Peter Tiidus said the University’s involvement in public health education goes back more than a decade, when Brock launched the first Bachelor of Public Health program in Canada.
“This MOU facilitates and expands upon the longstanding relationship we have with Niagara Public Health, which provides outstanding experiential education opportunities for our students and enhanced research collaborations for our faculty,” he said. “As we continue to expand our programs to find new and innovative ways to support the health of Niagara’s aging population, we are expecting even more educational and research opportunities to emerge from this MOU.”
There are many examples of projects that have been completed or are underway aimed at improving health well-being outcomes for Niagara residents.
In one project, through Brock’s Interprofessional Education for Quality Improvement Program (I-EQUIP), Associate Professor of Health Sciences Madelyn Law and third-year Health Sciences student Josiah Coolen are working with Niagara EMS to review research and survey the community on perceptions of a new clinical triage model.
Another example is Brock Assistant Professor of Health Sciences Karen Patte, who is collaborating with Niagara Region Health Promoter Lisa Gallant on a project with fourth-year students focused on the development of evidence-based strategies to improve participation in walking, biking and other forms of active school travel across the region. Students’ innovative ideas have been incorporated within Public Health strategies, having a direct impact on the community.
“This is a very exciting time,” said Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Andrea Feller. “Over the years, our work with Brock has increased and improved. This MOU demonstrates our commitment to take this work to the next level — ultimately leading to ways to maximize knowledge-to-action to benefit Niagarans.”
Law said the MOU provides a framework for the University and Niagara Region Public Health to move forward together with many more ideas.
“The complexity of health issues crosses all disciplines from transportation and education to things such as infectious diseases,” she said. “Having this formal MOU will help us think about health more broadly across all disciplines and Faculties at Brock to deal with these complex issues. It enhances the possibilities of collaborations across Brock to look at all factors that impact issues related to health.”
Staff from Public Health have also been working closely with Brock on a number of projects. Hirji and others have been guest lecturers in a number of University courses, while Niagara Public Health Manager of Surveillance and Evaluation Sinead McElhone is an adjunct professor in Brock’s Faculty of Applied Health Sciences. McElhone sits on the organizing committee for a health symposium to be held at Brock in October. She’s also part of Brock’s Niagara Community Observatory and is on the committee for Brock’s Master of Public Health program.
“In my roles, I have had the unique opportunity to observe the many great activities between both organizations such as teaching, research and student training,” McElhone said. “I am excited to see this partnership being formalized to better benefit students, staff and the people of Niagara.”
Friday’s MOU signing is the latest in a series of commitments by Brock to work with regional partners, such as Niagara Health, Pathstone Mental Health, Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold and Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre.