Paulette Hunter, St. Thomas More
Can you describe your area of research and how it is helping address a health-related issue in Saskatchewan?
My research focuses on the wellbeing of the long-term care community, including residents, families, and staff. Given that many people in long-term care are approaching the end of life, I develop and test resources and practices to support palliative care and communication about serious illness and dying.
What are the most rewarding aspects of your work?
Long-term care is a smaller community within our larger community. I find it very rewarding to work in partnership with residents, families, research colleagues, students, and health system partners who have similar interests in improving the experiences of people who are living and working in long-term care.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
As a society, we were able to find the will and the resources to radically alter public health and hospital operations to respond to needs arising during the pandemic, yet we haven’t been able to move the needle on some of the major problems facing long-term care, including quality of life, involvement of residents and families in decision-making, and the health of the workforce. I think this collective inertia, which existed before the pandemic began, is the biggest challenge any long-term care researcher faces. We have decades worth of reports outlining logical ways to improve the financial model for long-term care, sustainably build the required physical infrastructure for long-term care, and provide better care within long-term care. But who will care enough to see these ideas through? When will long-term care become a priority social issue?
How did you first become interested in this area of research? What inspires you to do the work that you do?
When I was young, I saw a relative with physical and intellectual disabilities navigate the health system and began to realize some of the challenges she faced. A seemingly simple thing like having access to sufficient pain control after a surgery, was not so simple when she could not communicate her needs in words, and her caregivers did not understand her non-verbal communication. This made me very curious about the experiences of people with developmental and acquired disabilities within our health system.
Where is your research headed in the next five years?
One positive outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has drawn our community together in new ways. Over the last year, I have had the pleasure to work with several students, colleagues, and families with a strong drive to make long-term care a better place to live and work. Collaboration is intrinsically rewarding, and it also fosters innovation. Over the next few years, I hope that residents, families, staff, students, and colleagues will co-plan the next steps for innovations in practice within long-term care. More voices, better outcomes.
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