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Seeding Home-Grown Research Capacity

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

The following story was published in the 2022-23 SHRF Annual Report.

See the full publication here.

For over 20 years in Saskatchewan, SHRF has acted diligently to support and invest in research. While all funding applications and awards mark steps in a researcher’s career, SHRF takes pride working with and engaging researchers through a wholistic, long-term approach. This involves supporting a research ecosystem that is forward-thinking, collaborating with partners and institutions to align opportunities and priorities, and empowering researchers to find success with national and international funders. We are privileged to engage with Saskatchewan researchers and teams, and to support their research alignment and success provincially and nationally.

Supporting Expansive Research Careers

SHRF’s Establishment Grant—our longest standing funding opportunity—directly supports early-career researchers in Saskatchewan. These grants work to attract and retain research excellence in the province, and to promote successful health research careers in our communities. For many researchers, an Establishment Grant marks an important career milestone and initiates ongoing support and connection with SHRF. Follow-ups with researchers who receive early-career funding from SHRF, and who have continued successful and impactful research careers in Saskatchewan, provide important insight into SHRF’s impact.

Dr. Rachel Engler-Stringer was awarded a SHRF Establishment Grant in 2010-11 for her research examining the availability, accessibility and quality of food in Saskatoon neighbourhoods for families with children. Dr. Engler-Stringer’s work demonstrated that a lack of physical proximity to healthy food options disproportionately impacts low-income communities, and that complex social and cultural factors are also relevant. She later led a SHRF Collaborative Innovation Development Grant to study food access and eating behaviours in the context of low-income neighbourhoods. This innovative pilot project used an existing smartphone app in a new way to collect real-time information to better inform future interventions. In parallel, SHRF partnered with CIHR to co-fund Dr. Engler-Stringer’s Population Health Intervention Research Grant, where she evaluated interventions to change and improve inner-city food environments and address nutritional inequities.

As Dr. Engler-Stringer’s research program has grown, it has provided the foundation for projects such as ‘Exploring Universal School Lunch Programs and Practices’, funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada. In 2022-23, SHRF’s Research Connections Grant supported phase 1 of this larger national project by promoting the exchange of knowledge surrounding the role of traditional Indigenous food in schools serving Indigenous children. This work engages stakeholders such as the Meadow Lake Tribal Council Education, Saskatoon Public Schools, the Coalition for Healthy School Food, Canadian Feed The Children, CHEP Good Food and school food programs across the country. Now, it will direct phase 2 of the project where school food pilot programs will be implemented, furthering the goals of the program of research to increase access to traditional and healthier foods for children in Saskatchewan and beyond.

Come to the Table: Exploring School Food Together Dr. Rachel Engler-Stringer [University of Saskatchewan] 2022-23 SHRF Research Connections Grant Image: Submitted


Supporting an Ecosystem

SHRF’s activities support the capacity of the provincial health research ecosystem by providing opportunities for researchers and knowledge-users to connect, supporting research as it progresses to a stage for larger national funding opportunities, and offering peer-review committee experience. Human capacity is also essential for a robust research ecosystem. In addition to early-career support through the SHRF Establishment Grant, we work with national partners to support important training opportunities.

An example of researchers and a local organization who have benefited from the ecosystem SHRF aims to support includes Dr.’s Holly McKenzie and Erika Penz involvement with Sanctum 1.5. As a 10-bed pre and postnatal care home in Saskatoon, Sanctum 1.5 provides stabilization and support to high-risk and HIV-positive pregnant women at-risk of having their infants apprehended at birth. Sanctum 1.5’s goals include: preventing vertical transmission of HIV, improving health outcomes for mom and baby, and preventing infant apprehension at birth. Sanctum 1.5 works to encourage health and social interventions with effective outcomes by providing ‘the right services at the right time'. Research that supports Sanctum 1.5 to achieve and advance their goals is crucial.

This year, SHRF co-funded post-doctoral fellow Dr. Holly McKenzie’s CIHR Health System Impact Fellowship to enable her embedded work with Sanctum Care Group. The Health System Impact program was developed by CIHR to modernize health services and policy research. Dr. McKenzie’s work at Sanctum focuses on collaboratively adapting a Social Return on Investment Framework to attend to Indigenous values and realities and applying it to an analysis of the Sanctum 1.5 model of care. Dr. McKenzie is engaging this work alongside a council of Indigenous Elders, Indigenous scholars, leaders in health and social services, leaders in social value and people with lived and living experience. In addition to her primary supervisor, Sanctum Care Group's Executive Director and co-founder Katelyn Roberts, Dr. McKenzie is supervised in this work by Dr. Erika Penz and Dr. Alana Cattapan.

Hope Through Strength: Using a Social-Return on Investment Analysis to Represent a Wholistic View of the Value Produced Through Investing in Sanctum 1.5

Holly McKenzie [University of Saskatchewan]

2022-23 SHRF-CIHR Health System Impact Fellowship

Image: Submitted

In addition, a team of researchers led by Dr. Erika Penz received a SHRF Solutions Impact Grant to analyze and communicate the impact of Sanctum 1.5 using the new framework. The project is an off-shoot of the CIHR-funded “Sanctum 1.5 Hope Through Strength project” (NPI: Dr. S. Maposa – USask College of Nursing), which is working to develop an evidence base for Sanctum 1.5’s model of care. The SHRF project team includes many researchers previously funded by SHRF, and is comprised of members of the CIHR team along with new co-investigators, including two mothers with lived experience as clients at Sanctum 1.5.

This project team represents a truly interdisciplinary approach and reflects the impact of SHRF’s funding individually and collectively. Dr. Penz (Principal Investigator) has received multiple SHRF grants, including an Establishment Grant that explored the value of money spent on healthcare programs and technologies, and the use of large administrative databases to examine population health outcomes. Dr. Alexandra King (co-Principal Investigator) was recently awarded a SHRF Establishment Grant to create culturally-responsive research frameworks and bring Indigenous and Two-Eyed seeing lenses to her work in health systems and service transformation. Dr. Amanda Froehlich-Chow (co-Principal Investigator) was a SHRF Research Fellowship Award recipient with a background in child and youth health promotion. This team also includes co-Principal Investigators Dr. Alana Cattapan, Dr. Sithokozile Maposa and Sanctum Care Group Executive Director and co-founder, Katelyn Roberts. They will continue their work together with Sanctum 1.5 over the next two years.

What is the Wholistic Value Produced Through Investing in Sanctum 1.5, the First HIV Prenatal Care Home in Canada?

Erika Penz, Alexandra King, Amanda Froehlich-Chow, Sithokozile Maposa [University of Saskatchewan]

Katelyn Roberts [Sanctum Care Group]

Alana Cattapan [University of Waterloo]

2022-23 SHRF Solutions, Impact Grant

Image: Submitted


The needs, priorities and characteristics of the Saskatchewan health research climate are distinct, and benefit significantly from a local approach to funding, partnerships and collaborations. SHRF is proud to play our part in supporting such an ecosystem, and to witness the impact on the health and healthcare of those who call the province home.

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