Last summer, the Health Sciences North Volunteer Association made a pledge to contribute $450,000 over three years to geriatric research in the community.
The volunteer association's donation allowed Health Sciences North's research arm, the Advanced Medical Research Institute of Canada (AMRIC), to create a chair in geriatric research.
The HSN Volunteer Association Chair in Geriatric Research position has since been filled by geriatrician and researcher Dr. Janet McElhaney, who moved to the city from Vancouver in September.
McElhaney is known as one of Canada's foremost experts in geriatric medicine.
The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) followed up the volunteer association's pledge March 12 with its own $598,185 contribution towards the research chair.
“I'm delighted the NOHFC could support this very important project for Sudbury and northeastern Ontario,” said Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci, who made the announcement on behalf of the province.
“This will have far-reaching effects, far beyond the borders of northeastern Ontario. This is leading-edge research.”
McElhaney said she'd like to say “many, many thanks” to the province for funding the research chair position, as well as to the volunteer association for its contribution.
The volunteer association's support was “key to going to the provincial government for additional funds,” she said.
McElhaney said the research she does allows her to help more than just the people she sees one-on-one in Health Sciences North's medical wards.
“I say that if I'm really successful, older people will never have to see me in the hospital setting,” she said. “I'll meet them in the community, where they're enjoying their health.”
McElhaney is known for her research into ways to improve vaccines for elderly people, including the influenza vaccine.
But she said she also plans to examine how inflammation affects chronic conditions such as heart disease, lung disease and dementia, specifically in northern and Aboriginal communities.
McElhaney said she'll be hiring several people to help her with the research.
“Many people, when they think about inflammation, they think about arthritis, but it goes way beyond that,” she said. “We now understand that inflammation is part of progression of heart disease, lung diseases, even dementia.”
Health Sciences North CEO Dr. Denis Roy emphasized what researchers such as McElhaney bring to health care.
“The researchers at HSN and AMRIC have audacity of imagination, they have boldness of thinking, they have capacity of vision which drives them to find that next great advance in health care,” he said. “Who benefits? We do. The community does.”
Bartolucci echoed Roy's words, saying that there's no doubt that research improves patient care. When asked what he'd say to critics who say it's more important to invest in front-line patient care, he said “they're wrong.”
“We can't only invest in front-line care,” Bartolucci said. “That's important, but not at the exclusion of research.”
He added that the Liberals have increased operating dollars for front-line patient care in the province by more than 50 per cent since they took power nearly a decade ago.
Health Sciences North Volunteer Association president Cliff Richardson said when his organization heard about the opportunity to fund the chair in geriatric research last year, they didn't hesitate.
“It was very evident to us the need, not only for this chair, but the care that it's also bringing to our community, specifically in geriatrics,” he said.
“At the time, I think we had one geriatrician in all of Northern Ontario, so there was an overwhelming need.”
Richardson said the community is “blessed to have someone as world-class” as McElhaney chose to work here.