Urgent funding from MSFHR supports BC health authorities’ response to COVID-19

1 December 2020

In addition to capacity challenges presented to frontline health care, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated an urgent research response in BC to help us understand how to manage the spread of the virus at the local level.

In communicating with stakeholders, MSFHR found there is regional disparity in the ability of health authorities to support health research. Significant pressures were placed on BC’s health authorities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in strained research capacity and created difficulties in supporting new COVID-19 studies, as well as safely resuming non-COVID studies.

This is why MSFHR provided urgent funding to five BC health authorities (Fraser Health, Interior Health, Island Health, Northern Health, and Provincial Health Services Authority) to stabilize and build research capacity in each BC region. This funding enabled the health authorities to quickly respond and deploy resources for COVID-19 research, in addition to creating jobs through hiring essential research personnel.

“Working collaboratively with our health authority partners allows us to optimize resources to build local health research capacity in BC,” says MSFHR President & CEO, Dr. Bev Holmes. “Creating jobs for essential research personnel is helping to increase research infrastructure in health authorities that were stretched thin.”

Fraser Health

With funding matched by Surrey Hospitals Foundation, Fraser Health is bolstering research capacity at Surrey Memorial Hospital, specifically to enable innovative, life-saving COVID-19 research.

Six essential research personnel were hired in Fraser Health at Surrey Memorial Hospital, including a Clinical Research Coordinator, Clinical Research Nurse, and a Clinical Research Assistant.

The partnership is a first for Surrey Hospitals Foundation and MSFHR, which is enabling Fraser Health to fulfill its Together Priorities and recruit the best and brightest future talent while allowing young researchers to build their skill sets doing research on site at Surrey Memorial Hospital.

“Real-time research enables staff and medical staff to provide the best care for our patients and will help inform clinical practice in the future,” says Dr. Victoria Lee, President and CEO, Fraser Health. “We are grateful to MSFHR and Surrey Hospitals Foundation for supporting COVID-19 research in our community.”

“With the generous support of MSFHR and community donors, we are proud to invest in crucial COVID-19 research,” says Jane Adams, President and CEO of the Surrey Hospitals Foundation. “No one is more experienced and adept at understanding how patients are impacted by this pandemic than the critical care team in Surrey. Supporting knowledge translation and patient-focused care will go a long way in battling this pandemic.”

Northern Health

Funding for Northern Health is also being used to hire essential research personnel in the region, with the hiring of its first Clinical Research Coordinator, a Research Ethics and Knowledge Translation Coordinator, and a Data Hub Coordinator to facilitate research data requests. These new positions will be fundamental to getting research processes and infrastructure in place to support research in the North. In particular, the Clinical Research Coordinator marks the beginning of Northern Health’s clinical research journey.

“I cannot stress how important this funding has been for research in the North. The Clinical Research Coordinator will enable northern sites to participate in clinical trials, bringing more equitable access to investigational therapeutics to the people living in our region,” says Julia Bickford, Regional Director, Research Evaluation and Analytics, Northern Health. “This funding will support the development of our processes, policies, and standard operating procedures which will facilitate researchers to engage with Northern Health more effectively and efficiently. We are absolutely thrilled to have these key roles in place to support research that is relevant to the north and it would not have been possible without this funding from MSFHR.”

Island Health

Island Health’s funding has enabled the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital to participate in COVID-19 clinical research, providing patients living on the Mid and North areas of Vancouver Island who are hospitalized with COVID-19 to have the same access to clinical trials as a treatment option as patients hospitalized in Victoria hospitals.

This involved setting up the infrastructure and training required for clinical trial conduct for the first time with highly motivated clinicians, leaders and support staff. In addition, the funding enabled participation in an Emergency Department COVID-19 registry in Nanaimo.

The MSFHR funding has enabled Island Health to address critical resource shortfalls resulting from the pandemic. This includes additional staffing for the research ethics administrative office to support the important work of the research ethics boards and the recruitment of a highly qualified expert to assist a Pandemic Response Team to translate the rapidly-evolving evidence from COVID-19 research into practice and policy.

“MSFHR understood and responded to the impact of COVID-19 on our research infrastructure. This critical funding has strengthened our ability to conduct research and knowledge translation for the benefit of the 850,000 people we serve,” adds Cindy Trytten, Director of Research, Island Health.

Provincial Health Services Authority

Data is an important but under-resourced area in many health authorities, and data access is one of the biggest challenges presented to BC health researchers. Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) has large-scale provincial datasets and registries associated with provincial programs (such as the cardiac registry) that contain critical data. This is why funding from MSFHR is enabling PHSA to bring on research personnel to support and respond to research data access requests.

These personnel will work to expedite data requests as well as refresh governance and operating processes for primary and secondary research.

Interior Health

Integrating research into health authorities and supporting a health system focused on learning is integral to good patient care, which became even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Interior Health used MSFHR funding to create full-time positions in their Clinical Research Department, which, prior to receiving funding, was operating with only casual staff.

“Funding from MSFHR enabled Interior Health to bring on an additional five full-time positions, and the Clinical Research Department was able to reduce inefficiencies caused by staff turnover,” says Dr. Deanne Taylor, Corporate Director of Research, Interior Health. “By stabilizing clinical research services, Interior Health can offer patients access to clinical research trials in our region.”

At MSFHR, we recognize that BC’s successful response to COVID-19 involves policy approaches anchored in science. We are using the information gathered through our extensive outreach to create programs and activities that will enable innovative, cross-disciplinary researchers and teams to produce the science and evidence British Columbians need to stay healthy.

As BC’s health research funder, MSFHR is well placed to enable responsive, relevant research to support BC’s efforts to respond to COVID-19 and help provide important resources that BC’s health research community needs to continue doing world-class research during a time of rapid change.