July 27, 2022

New university Centre for Health Policy prioritizes community engagement to target health-care system reform

Health policy initiative recognizes urgent action is needed to make health care across Canada more sustainable
The Health System Sustainability Initiative team
The Health System Sustainability Initiative team. Adrian Shellard, for the O’Brien Institute for Public Health

Seizing on an opportunity to engage researchers and health-policy decision-makers to help address a crucial need for health-care reform, the Cumming School of Medicine’s O’Brien Institute for Public Health has launched the Centre for Health Policy.

Creators of the virtual centre see disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as a chance to pursue meaningful change — with a focus on improving the performance of a frail health-care system.

“I am delighted that the University of Calgary is increasing its capacity for health policy activities and initiatives. The O'Brien Institute's Centre for Health Policy will provide a venue and network for our scholars to connect with as they work on health policy initiatives that address our biggest public health challenges,” says Dr. William Ghali, MD, vice-president (research) at UCalgary.

  • Photo above, from left: Dr. Amity Quinn, Dr. Karla Krewulak, Rachelle Drummond, Dr. Tom Stelfox, Emily Fitzgerald, Dr. Melanie Columbus, Dr. Fiona Clement, Dr. Stephana Moss, Liza Mastikhina, Rukhsaar Daya.

Under consideration since 2016, the Centre for Health Policy actively identifies strategies to advance evidence-informed decision-making for health in all policies. Dr. Tom Stelfox, MD, PhD, intensive care physician and scientific director of the O’Brien Institute, sees the social service and health-care systems at crossroads.

“We have navigated multiple waves of the COVID-19 pandemic and our systems are now frail from financial pressures, deferred services and a workforce that is spent,” Stelfox says. “It is imperative that we increase the resilience and sustainability of our social service and health-care systems.”

The new centre’s first major project, the Health System Sustainability Initiative (HSSI), serves as the backbone of the collaborative centre. Methods used to engage all stakeholders and the model of the centre will be tested, developed and “open to continuous improvement,” says Dr. Melanie Columbus, PhD, managing director of the centre.

Driven by research and engagement, the HSSI seeks to achieve health system reform with a focus on improving population health, value for money, and patient and provider experiences.

“We have an opportunity with this initiative to make meaningful change,” says Dr. Fiona Clement, PhD, director of the Health Technology Assessment Unit, professor and head of the Department of Community Health Sciences and member of the O’Brien Institute. “Health policy issues such as value, system performance and patient quality of care are not new to Canadians. We hope to bring together key leaders – community, academic and policy perspectives — to find realistic and effective policy solutions that address these issues.”

Participants share ideas at the 2022 Health Policy Forum

Participants share ideas at the 2022 Health Policy Forum, hosted by the O’Brien Institute for Public Health.

Adrian Shellard, for the O’Brien Institute for Public Health

The first phase of the HSSI focuses on gathering broad evidence and identifying priorities for health-care reform. Those priorities were presented at the centre’s first Health Policy Forum held at UCalgary in late-June. The gathering of 12 panelists with the HSSI and O’Brien Institute teams was unique in the way it engaged a national group of stakeholders and integrated citizen representation, decision-makers, health-system administrators and academics from across Canada, says Columbus.

The HSSI is mapping out next steps based on potential goals and targets discussed during the forum, and based on strategies that have worked in other regions.

The centre will operate under a partnership model, inviting community organizations and university researchers to bring public health challenges and solutions to the centre for discussion. The plan is to reconvene relevant stakeholders as the HSSI unfolds, Columbus says, with the next forum to happen sometime next year.

To gather important feedback from the campus community on the new centre, a launch was held to bring together UCalgary faculty. Experts from The School of Public Policy, Cumming School of Medicine, nursing, engineering, social sciences, and Alberta Health Services attended the launch. They discussed health policy impact related to their area of expertise, resources the centre could add to improve policy development, and existing resources around campus that could be leveraged.

The mission of the health policy centre is to encourage evidence-informed discussion that will produce meaningful change, and to bring forward ideas to governments and NGOs that are needed now.

Read more about the initiative. 

The O'Brien Institute for Public Health at the University of Calgary is advancing public health through research excellence and realizing the benefits of such research by informing community, policy and health-practice stakeholders.

The Institute's membership includes more than 500 multidisciplinary researchers from 13 Cumming School of Medicine departments and nine other University of Calgary faculties, such as Nursing, Veterinary Medicine, Kinesiology and Arts; health professionals in Alberta Health Services; and, research users and policy makers from municipal and provincial institutions.