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Sudbury geriatrician Dr. Janet McElhaney dies in hospice

McElhaney remembered for wide-ranging list of accomplishments at Health Sciences North as well as her empathetic treatment of patients
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Celebrated Sudbury physician Dr. Janet McElhaney has died in hospice care, Health Sciences North CEO Dominic Giroux wrote in a touching tribute posted to Facebook. (File)

Accomplished Sudbury geriatrician Dr. Janet McElhaney died at a British Columbia hospice on Thursday after being diagnosed with cancer three years ago.

Health Sciences North CEO Dominic Giroux announced McElhaney’s death in a touching tribute to his colleague posted to Facebook earlier today.

“Despite her diagnosis a few years ago, Janet continued her work and research,” Giroux wrote. 

“She continued to provide care to patients, kneeling at their bedside to be eye to eye to explain what was happening in terms they would understand. She continued to publish and secure grants. She continued to develop creative ideas to make health services more seniors friendly. She continued to give media interviews to counter COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.”

McElhaney studied at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine from 1982 to 1986 and received her MD with honours alongside the Dr. Harry Weinlos Humanitarian Prize in Medicine, which is awarded to the student who demonstrates humanitarianism and an excellent academic record. 

A series of prestigious roles followed, and in 2011 she relocated to Greater Sudbury to join the Health Sciences North Research Institute, for which she served as scientific director. 

She brought her experience as a practising geriatrician, academic physician and scientist with “bundles of energy to inspire and lead HSN in being a more evidence-based senior-friendly hospital,” Giroux wrote. 

The CEO credits McElhaney with a number of local accomplishments, including:

  • Pioneering the COACH team and the geriatric outpatient rehabilitation program formerly known as STAT, which enriches inpatient and post-discharge experiences for frail seniors.
  • Starting the 48/5 clinical intervention for hip fracture patients to deliver a multicomponent intervention through an interprofessional collaborative practice. 
  • Leading the institute’s work toward population health and developing programs in Healthy Aging and Indigenous Health.
  • Co-authoring more than 70 publications since joining the Sudbury team in 2011, delivering more than 80 presentations worldwide and securing more than $10 million in grants for her personal research programs.
  • Supervising more than 80 medical learners and was an “economic development powerhouse” with the creation of local jobs to support her research endeavours. 

These and other efforts resulted in a number of honours in her lifetime, including the annual Jonas Salk Award she received earlier this year. This award is bestowed to Canadian scientists, physicians or researchers who have made new and outstanding contributions in science or medicine to present, alleviate or eliminate a physical disability.

In 2019, Sudbury.com reported on her efforts to encourage seniors to receive a flu vaccination - a piece of advocacy that would only become more relevant in the months that followed.

“All these people have reasons for why they don’t want to get vaccinated,” she told Sudbury.com at the time. “And my question to them is: Are you really willing to risk your independence by choosing not to get vaccinated? Are you really going to listen to what you see or hear on a website? Are you ready to risk your independence based on what you saw on the Internet?”

Among other prestigious roles, McElhaney was selected to a National Advisory Board for Indigenous Peoples’ Health in 2016.

“I think the best way we can promote Janet’s legacy is to be kind to one another, continue to strengthen our research efforts and improve our approaches to make health care more seniors friendly,” Giroux wrote. 

“She would want us to advance Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, and make our organizations more welcoming to LGBTQ2S patients, visitors, employees, medical staff, learners and volunteers.”

Flags at Health Sciences North will be flown at half-mast in honour of McElhaney.