W21C Research and Innovation Centre | Annual Report 2020 - 2021

The theme of this report is Connection, Collaboration, and Community. W21C has over 60 active projects, and this report features just a few of our research and innovation activities from April 1, 2020 – March 31, 2021.

The theme of this report is Connection, Collaboration, and Community. W21C has over 60 active projects, and this report features just a few of our research and innovation activities from April 1, 2020 – March 31, 2021.


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W21C Research and

Innovation Centre

Annual Report



2 Message from the Directors

3 About W21C

4 Impact Metrics: Year in Numbers

5 Celebrating our Milestones

18 Thank you

Research Impact


Creating local and global partnerships to enhance safety for patients, providers,

and communities during the global pandemic

7 Global study investigates decontamination methods for medical masks

9 Researchers investigate drone delivery of medical supplies, equipment, treatments,

and diagnostic testing to remote First Nations communities during pandemic

12 Researchers explore health system preparedness in acute and primary care settings

12 University of Calgary drug discovery aims to reduce inflammation in COVID-19

patients: Metablok clinical trial


Supporting academics, clinicians, entrepreneurs, and industry to respond to changing

health system needs in a digital world

13 SPARK Calgary: A success story

14 Digital health platform aims to reduce antimicrobial resistance: Firstline

14 Software platform focuses on enhancing stroke treatment triage: StrokeSENS


Working together with patients, families, and providers to make care better

15 The Impact of COVID-19 on family caregivers for persons living with dementia


from the Directors

You cannot truly test the foundations of something until

adversity hits, and there has never been a truer test than

during a global pandemic.

This past year has taught us so much. We have experienced

the isolation, fear of the unknown, changes in the rules

for how we live, and a completely new way of working.

In spite of these challenges, we were blown away by how

much our team and our partners continued to thrive in

this new world. They did what they do best—they came

together, found creative ways to connect, and figured out

how to adapt to keep our Centre moving forward.

Connection. Collaboration. Community.

Three words that describe the heart of W21C.

They inherently define the spirit of the people we work

with every day, people that drive W21C and health

systems research: our dedicated research staff, clinicians

and health-care providers, academics, entrepreneurs,

patients, and their families. Together, they continue to

explore new ways to keep us all safe during this global

health crisis.

and resilience of Alberta Health Services, where W21C

began in 2004, and who we continue to partner closely

with. And they highlight the work of our larger innovation

ecosystem partners provincially, nationally, and globally.

Through connection, collaboration, and community,

we identify care gaps, grow ideas, and break through

obstacles to help transform health systems.

On behalf of our team, we are excited to share this Annual

Report, which provides just a snapshot of some of our

incredible research achievements for this past year. The

partnerships highlighted in this report are the keystones

of our Centre. They will continue to help us shape our

research priorities, ensuring that new technology or

system innovations help the people they are supposed to

help, whenever and wherever they are needed.

Now more than ever, we recognize what a privilege it is

to be part of this amazing team, working every day to

make care better.

Jill de Grood, MA PMP (she/her)

Director, Development and Partnerships

Alex Baron, W21C

17 Alberta Health Services’ Assess, Treat, and Refer Coordination Centre They depict the strong networks we have built over the

years through the O’Brien Institute for Public Health

and are reflected in the University of Calgary’s Growth

through Focus campaign. They showcase the strength

Dr. Jaime Kaufman, PhD (she/her)

Director, Research and Innovation

1 W21C Research and Innovation Centre

Annual Report 20202021




Who we are

The W21C Research and Innovation Centre (W21C) is based in the University of Calgary’s

O’Brien Institute for Public Health, and the Calgary Zone of Alberta Health Services.

Impact Metrics:

Year in Numbers

April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021


University academic faculty

and/or alumni associated

with research projects


Connections with

companies to explore

research services



research projects

What we do

W21C aims to improve the health system by bringing new ideas, prototypes, and products

into health care for testing and evaluation. W21C’s interdisciplinary research team provides

evidence, feedback, and validation services.


Industry inquiries converted

to active research projects


Prototypes for

clinical evaluation




Together we are making care better.

Our core values

W21C endeavours to create and maintain a positive and productive balance between

learning, working, and living. We promote:



innovation evaluations


Highly qualified

personnel trained


On-going clinical trials

(11 activated)

Integrity and


To take responsibility for

our own actions while

expecting the same of

others we interact with.

Research and Service


To go above and beyond

and to pursue excellence in

everything we do.


To believe in the power of

working together to find

solutions to challenging


Privacy and Confidentiality

To protect the

confidentiality of the

information and data that

has been entrusted to us.


To treat all individuals

with respect, compassion,

fairness, and dignity.

Work-Life Balance

and Wellness

To encourage and empower

individuals to adopt a

work-life model that

reflects the needs of their

unique personal situations

while enabling maximum



Launch of

SPARK Calgary

New in-house

lab collection service

Top recruiting site

for two international studies



Undergraduate and

graduate students


in educational

opportunities (class

tours, presentations,

and summer



Attendees at virtual events

focused on entrepreneurship

and health-care solutions





123% increase in engagement


unique website visitors

with international reach

3 W21C Research and Innovation Centre Annual Report 20202021 4

Celebrating our Milestones

For over 17 years (2004–2021) W21C has been at the heart of health services research, working with

academics, entrepreneurs, governments, non-profits, and companies to bring new ideas into health

care. Highlights in research, education, collaboration, and entrepreneurship include:


Opening of the Ward of the

21st Century, a redesigned

Unit 36 in the Special

Services Building of the

Foothills Medical Centre.

Located within the Calgary

Health Region (now part of

Alberta Health Services),

this “Living Laboratory”

was the first of its kind

in Canada.


South Health Campus:

W21C Human Factors

researchers teamed up

with Calgary Health Region

to conduct simulations

evaluating the proposed

designs of four rooms

before construction.

Recommendations provided

informed the final design of

900 rooms.

Vocera Device Evaluation:

This hands-free wireless

communication solution

was tested by W21C (with

nursing staff) when it

was first implemented

within the Calgary Health

Region. Research found

the device improved work

efficiency, communication,

and continuity of patient

care. Vocera is now used in

hospitals across Alberta

and internationally.


Opening of the W21C

Research and Innovation

Centre and the shift to

being part of the University

of Calgary.


ASL Mobile Eye: W21C was

one of the first research

teams to explore eye

movements in health-care

settings using the Applied

Science Laboratories (ASL)

Mobile Eye. This tetherless

eye-tracking system,

designed to be worn by

research participants, helps

to capture and record

where health-care providers

are looking during clinical

procedures, while they

interact with different

health-care technologies.


Launch of the W21C

Summer Student Program,

which provides hands-on

research opportunities,

education sessions, and

mentorship. To date,

69 undergraduate and

graduate students have

participated in the program.

The beginning of local

and global health care

innovation academy

event platforms (W21C

Innovation Academy

and Global Healthcare

Innovation Academy). These

international partnership

events support innovation

in health care with scalable

impact. W21C has hosted

nine events within this



Alberta Ambulance

Design: This study,

conducted by W21C and

AHS Emergency Medical

Services, evaluated how

the design of ambulances

impacted paramedics’

ability to provide care

during patient transport.

Results continue to inform

improvements to the rear

patient compartment

of Alberta ambulances,

greatly improving safety for

patients and paramedics.


XSENSOR’s ForeSite

PT System: W21C

conducted an independent

randomized controlled

trial with XSENSOR’s

pressure monitoring

system (a mattress overlay

for a hospital bed) to

assess if the technology

aids in reducing pressure

experienced by patients.

Pressure injury treatment

costs Canadian hospitals

more than $1 million

each year. Prior to

this clinical trial, W21C

worked with XSENSOR

from initial concept

to prototype creation,

and commercialization;

conducting focus groups,

heuristic evaluations,

usability, and clinical testing.


Patient Portal Survey:

This Alberta-wide

study examined public

perceptions regarding

the use of online patient

health portals to access,

manage, and share health

information. The results

were shared with provincial

decision-making bodies to

inform decisions for online

health platforms in Alberta.

W21C receives the

Societal Impact Award

from the ASTech Foundation.

WiTAT Technology

Evaluation: This noninvasive


allows for the continuous

monitoring of a patient’s

core body temperature. This

flagship project proved the

efficacy of the device and

involved a collaboration

between W21C, University

of Calgary’s Department

of Electrical and Software

Engineering (the developers

of the device), and the

Intensive Care Unit at

Foothills Medical Centre.

Physician Wellness: This

foundational study in the

Lancet, highlighted that

the health and wellness of

physicians is vital to the

delivery of high-quality

care. This study led to 15

years of further research

understanding the science

of physician wellness and

the eventual launch of Well

Doc Alberta in 2019.

The Duke and Duchess

of Cambridge visit W21C

as part of their national

Canadian tour (the only

university site they visited

in Western Canada).

Electronic Transfer of

Care Tool: W21C partnered

with AHS to develop and

test this web-based tool,

which provides a complete

summary of a patient’s

hospital stay to community

health-care providers. The

clinical trial resulted in a

tool that is now used in all

Calgary adult acute care

facilities. It has also been

modified for applications in

intensive care and surgery.

Garden Loft Laneway

House: W21C partnered with

the University of Calgary’s

School of Architecture,

Planning and Landscape to

evaluate the prototype of a

laneway home and assistive

in-home technologies to

support aging-in-place. This

cutting-edge design aims

to help people live in the

community longer, easing

the burden on the health

system and community.


SPARK Calgary program

launches within W21C

to support digital health

entrepreneurs (first

Canadian site for the

global SPARK network).

5 W21C Research and Innovation Centre

Annual Report 20202021



In addition to publishing in

the peer reviewed journal

Infection Control & Hospital

Epidemiology, the DeMaND

study was included in a

December 2020 interim

guidance report to the WHO

on rational use of PPE for

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

COVID-19 and considerations

during severe shortages.

The Calgary study team

was featured in a January

UCalgary News story that

was picked up by CBC News,

CBC Radio-Canada, and

Hospital News. A UCalgary

‘In the Know’ video featuring

Global study investigates decontamination

methods for medical masks

International research collaboration could help alleviate

shortages of personal protective equipment


Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Dr. Heyne and discussing the

decontamination methods has

received over 350 views.

Personal protective equipment

(PPE) is just as the name makes

clear: personal. Like your toothbrush,

you wouldn’t remove and share

your mask or face covering with

your colleague. But if masks can

be decontaminated effectively and

then reused, you might. This practice

would help combat future global

supply shortages.

Researchers at the University

of Calgary were part of the

Development of Methods for Mask

and N95 Decontamination (DeMaND)

study. This international multicentre

study evaluated low-cost

decontamination methods to maintain

mask integrity and performance for

health-care workers at the frontline.

Masks, including N95 respirators, were

put through two decontamination

processes that are accessible for lowto

middle income countries: dry heat

and photodynamic inactivation—

an antimicrobial process where

the mask is sprayed with a nontoxic

solution of methylene blue

and then exposed to light, which

creates reactive oxygen species

that kill the virus responsible for

COVID-19. Study results showed

that the photodynamic inactivation

method is effective in killing three

coronaviruses, including SARS-

CoV-2, while still maintaining

mask integrity after five cycles of

decontamination. These results were

published in Infection Control &

Hospital Epidemiology.

“The decontamination methods

we evaluated are low cost, easy

to perform, and can be applied

anywhere,” says Dr. Belinda Heyne,

PhD, professor in the Faculty of

Science and co-principal investigator

of the Calgary study team. “We have

demonstrated that photodynamic

inactivation is effective in killing

the virus and could now be used to

decontaminate masks for safe reuse

in any global setting.”

W21C’s Human Factors team was

the only study site to perform

user acceptance testing of the

masks with frontline health-care

providers. They conducted visual

checks, comfort assessments, and

took participants through a survey

to gather perceptions on how the

decontaminated mask would affect

their ability to perform work, and the

efficacy, safety, and trustworthiness

of the mask.

W21C was also a key player in

bringing the DeMaND study

to Alberta by securing study

partnerships and collaborators from

the University of Alberta, AHS, and

the University of Calgary’s Faculty of

Science. The DeMaND global research

consortium totalled involvement from

13 organizations, universities, and

laboratories, including the World Health

Organization (WHO) and Centers for

Disease Control and Prevention.

“In partnership with members of the

global consortium, we are providing

recommendations for countries and

settings who may not necessarily

have access to sufficient PPE or

limited decontamination facilities,”

says Dr. John Conly, MD, professor

in the Cumming School of Medicine

and co-principal investigator of the

Calgary study team.

This global research was supported

by Open Philanthropy, and the

Alberta study sites were supported

with funding from Innovation,

Impact and Evidence, Alberta

Health Services. The Calgary study

was led by Dr. Belinda Heyne, PhD,

Faculty of Science, and Dr. John

Conly, MD, W21C Research and

Innovation Centre.

7 W21C Research and Innovation Centre

Annual Report 20202021 | CONNECTION




investigate drone

delivery of medical

supplies, equipment,

treatments, and

diagnostic testing to

remote First Nations

communities during


Riley Brandt, University of Calgary


Leah Hennel, Alberta Health Services

COVID-19 has stressed an already

overburdened health-care system and

its resources. In the face of a global

pandemic, having rapid access to

supplies such as personal protective

equipment (PPE), diagnostic

equipment, and testing kits provides

a greater ability to prevent, detect,

and respond to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV),

commonly referred to as drones,

may prove to be a valuable tool for

health-care services and remote

communities in the battle against

pandemics like COVID-19.

Researchers at W21C, the Southern

Alberta Institute of Technology

(SAIT), AHS, and Alberta Precision

Laboratories (APL) have partnered

with the Stoney Nakoda Nations

(SNN) to deliver medical equipment

and test kits for COVID-19 to

remote areas, and to connect

these communities to laboratories

more quickly using these remotely

piloted aircraft.

Testing for COVID-19 is one of the

most effective tools against helping

to limit its spread. Many remote

communities in Canada do not have

easy access to testing centres and

medical supplies to support rapid

testing and containment. Drones are

a way to help respond to that need.

“Our reserve in Morley has multiple

access points; however, our satellite

reserves in Eden Valley and Big Horn

are remote and a delivery system

using drones could play a critical

role in the health and safety of our

communities,” says Ryan Robb, CEO

of the Stoney Tribal Administration.

“Like many remote Canadian

communities, weather can play a key

role, for example depending on the

time of the year, ice roads and floods

can create access barriers.”

“In many areas of Canada, drones

must be guided and monitored with

the assistance of line of sight,” says

Wade Hawkins, lead researcher

at SAIT’s Centre for Innovation

and Research in Unmanned

Systems (CIRUS) and co-principal

investigator on the project. “With

this partnership, we are working

with Transport Canada to gain

approval to move beyond visual

line of sight, enabling us to fly from

a lab or health centre directly to a

remote community.”

Over the past year, researchers

conducted several successful test

runs in remote SNN communities

beyond visual line of site for the

delivery of PPE and COVID-19 test

kits. The samples were brought

back to the provincial lab and were

able to survive with no degrading

of the specimen. They were also

non-infectious and posed no risk to

the public.

Additionally, Dr. Andrew Kirkpatrick,

MD, a trauma surgeon at the

Foothills Medical Centre, worked

with the team to deliver a portable

9 W21C Research and Innovation Centre

Annual Report 20202021 | CONNECTION



Researchers explore

health system

preparedness in

acute and primary

care settings




Over the past year, the study

was published in two peerreviewed

research journals.

Other top accomplishments

include 661 website and

social media content

downloads and 197 social

media posts—more than

300% and 600% of target

key performance indicators

(KPI) respectively. This

Leah Hennel, Alberta Health Services

With the onset of the COVID-19

pandemic, acute and primary care

centres around the world needed

to make rapid changes to clinical

practices and policies to make

sure health-care providers and

patients were kept safe. In Alberta,

researchers from W21C and the

University of Calgary’s School of

Public Policy were on the ground on

March 12, 2020, working alongside

incident management teams and

frontline clinicians as these new

health system changes were being

rolled out across the province. The

interdisciplinary team-bringing

clinical, human factors, and social

science expertise together-observed,

documented, and interviewed

frontline health-care providers and

incident management teams to

understand how these policies were

formed, transmitted, interpreted, and

implemented. Through this research,

the study team provided real-time

feedback and support to primary

and acute care teams to improve

practices and safety in clinical

settings. This included support to

develop an Infection Prevention

and Control (IPC) Community of

Practice—a community of primary

care clinicians focused on identifying

and adapting IPC protocols for their

clinics in Calgary and across Alberta.

Three papers from the study team’s

portfolio of work were published in

BMJ Global Health, PLOS One, and

BMJ Simulation and Technology

Enhanced Learning.

This research, supported by the

Canadian Institutes of Health

Research COVID rapid response fund,

was led by Dr. Myles Leslie, PhD,

School of Public Policy, and

Dr. John Conly, MD, W21C Research

and Innovation Centre.

project was featured in a

July 2020 UCalgary News

article and UCalgary video

that attracted external

news coverage by the

Calgary Herald, CTV via The

Canadian Press, and CBC in

the following months.

ultrasound unit and is investigating

its potential for further applications.

“With this device, and access to a

smartphone, with connectivity, a

person can be guided remotely by

an expert medical professional to

perform an ultrasound on themselves

or to have someone at the scene

perform it on them,” says Kirkpatrick.

“We’ve confirmed this system can

be used to check for evidence of

COVID-19 in the lungs, and I can see it

being utilized for many other medical

emergencies, from diagnosing broken

bones to ruptured spleens.”

Researchers are now in the final

stages of testing and refining the

Standard Operating Procedures

(SOP) or the drones beyond

visual line of site in locations with

different terrain, environmental

conditions, and distances. SAIT

will also be delivering flight school

training for youth at SNN, with the

goal of building the capacity for

the local communities to administer

and coordinate future flights.

If this Calgary drone delivery

initiative proves effective, Conly says

the project could grow into a tool

used nationally and even globally to

respond to medical emergencies in

remote and isolated areas.

This research is supported by TransAlta Corporation, the World Health

Organization (WHO), an anonymous donor, and the Nickle Family Foundation.

The research is led by co-principal investigators: Dr. John Conly, MD, and

Dr. Barry Baylis, MD, W21C Research and Innovation Centre, Dr. Andrew

Kirkpatrick, MD, AHS, and Wade Hawkins, SAIT.

University of Calgary drug discovery aims to

reduce inflammation in COVID-19 patients:

Metablok clinical trial

Sometimes a discovery made several

years ago can find a new purpose.

Metablok, a drug discovered

and developed by University of

Calgary researchers in the Arnie

Charbonneau and Snyder Institutes,

was originally created to reduce

inflammation in the lungs and liver.

Now the drug has found a new

possible application to help prevent

organ damage and acute kidney

injury in hospitalized COVID-19

patients. The company, Arch

Biopartners, received federal funding

to support the development of the

drug commercially for COVID-19

applications, with an international

multi-centre clinical trial of 60

patients. Dr. Alain Tremblay, MD,

professor in the Cumming School of

Medicine and principal investigator

for the Calgary study site, was

supported by W21C’s clinical trials

team for participant monitoring

and follow-up after the drug had

been administered. The results

from this study will inform the next

phase of clinical trials with a larger

number of participants to ensure it

is safe and effective, with the goal

of commercializing the drug and

adopting it into clinical practice.

11 W21C Research and Innovation Centre

Annual Report 20202021 | CONNECTION



SPARK Calgary:

A success story

Translating academic digital health innovations into clinical practice

Often great innovations can get stuck in the research

phase and do not make it out of the lab and into the

hands of those who need it. Launched in April 2020 and

led by Dr. Scott Kraft, MD, W21C Research and Innovation

Centre, SPARK Calgary helps academic researchers,

post-doctoral scholars, and students with digital health

innovations bridge that gap, increasing potential for

these important ideas and discoveries to make it into

clinical practice to benefit patients and the community.

These digital health innovations include products such as

mobile applications for patients, monitoring or diagnostic





project presentations to

industry advisors



technologies, and data visualization software.

SPARK Calgary is part of the SPARK Global network.

Initiated in 2006 at Stanford University, SPARK Global is

comprised of more than 60 academic institutions across

six continents. W21C is the first and only Canadian site.

In its first year, SPARK Calgary supported 11 digital health

project teams with group mentorship from industry

experts, educational seminars for product and business

development, project management support, and in-kind

W21C research services.


in Alberta Innovates

and Calgary

Innovation Coalition

funding for the

SPARK program


education sessions to



Digital health platform aims to reduce

antimicrobial resistance: Firstline

Since the discovery of penicillin in

1928, antibiotics have become a

foundation for modern medicine,

and continue to significantly improve

our lives. However, years of overuse

are causing increasing rates of

antimicrobial resistance (AMR)

around the world. A digital clinical

decision support platform created

by Canadian company Firstline

Clinical, was developed to combat

and prevent the overuse of broadspectrum

antibiotics. Their goal is

to become the worldwide digital

steward to increase adherence to

prescription guidelines and reduce

AMR. W21C worked with Firstline

to conduct a heuristic evaluation

of their iOS and Android-based

smart phone application (SApp),

as well as the web-based content

management system (CMS). More

recently, Firstline has been working

with W21C to customize and launch

the application globally, and it is

currently being used across Canada,

the United States, Europe, Southeast

Asia, and Africa. In Canada, the app

is servicing over 400,000 healthcare

providers, with nearly 300,000

uses to date within AHS alone. The

platform is customizable to local

health guidelines and continues to be

quickly updated to include relevant

COVID-19 support pages. In 2020,

Firstline and their partners received

over $4 million from Canada’s Digital

Technology Supercluster to build

a global knowledge network for

infectious diseases, and to develop a

software solution for researchers to

harness COVID-related genomic and

clinical data. New versions are now

being developed for the WHO as well

as for use by veterinarians—creating

impact in both human

and animal health.



with over


Including students, PhD

candidates, post-docs, faculty

Affiliated with or alumni

of 8 academic institutions

Spanning 9 university faculties


industry advisors

from across Canada

(BC, Alberta, Ontario)

team members



Innovate Calgary

Platform Calgary

Venture Mentoring

Service of Alberta


Life Sciences

Innovation Hub



Members = SPARK Stanford, Wyoming,

Mexico, Colorado, Cleveland Clinic

Aim to provide opportunities for team

members and advisors to connect across sites

Share best practices on SPARK

Collaborate on educational programming


in funding secured by

teams since joining

SPARK Calgary


people engaged

through public

outreach events

Software platform focuses on

enhancing stroke treatment triage:


In Canada, stroke is the third

leading cause of death and the

leading cause of adult disability.

Every year, there are over 50,000

new strokes in our country—

approximately one stroke every 10

minutes. In 1993, neurologist Dr.

Camilo Gomez coined a fundamental

rule of stroke treatment, ‘time is

brain.’ This rule still holds today,

meaning that quick identification

and accurate imaging interpretation

are essential at front-line hospitals

for the successful treatment of

strokes. StrokeSENS, created by

Circle Neurovascular Imaging Inc.,

was designed specifically for this

purpose. This software platform,

developed by expert physicians,

acts as a clinical decision support

tool for non-stroke physicians in a

variety of urban and rural locations.

W21C was approached by Circle

Neurovascular Imaging Inc. to

perform a heuristic evaluation with

design experts to help them enhance

the overall usability of their platform.

In the future, they hope to integrate

StrokeSENS into the clinical pathway

for stroke care. This tool could be

used to enhance patient triage,

providing information on key stroke

indicators (aspects) and enabling the

physicians to understand whether

a patient should go to a specialized

acute stroke care centre for

treatment (e.g., the Foothills Medical

Centre), or if they can be cared for in

other health-care facilities.





in external grants and

industry sponsored

funding from 2018-2021

28 digital health

projects supported

Health Innovation

Platform Partnership’s

Stage 1 Grant

Launch of SPARK

Calgary program


W21C Research and Innovation Centre

Annual Report 20202021 | COLLABORATION



Sheena Bates is a fulltime

family caregiver

at home for her

husband, Paul, who

lives with dementia.

Daniel Gaetano is a

full-time caregiver

for his wife, Janet.

Janet is living with

dementia and resides

in a long-term

care facility.

This research was

featured in a March

2021 UCalgary News

story that was then

picked up by the

Calgary Herald and

Calgary Sun, creating

further awareness

about the needs of

family caregivers in


The Impact of COVID-19 on family

caregivers for persons living with dementia

Research highlights system gaps and family needs during COVID-19


The pandemic has tested our resolve,

posing restrictions on who we can

see, what we can do, and where

we can go. For family caregivers to

people living with dementia at home,

in long-term care or supportive living

facilities, the pandemic has not only

isolated them, but the critical care

resources and social support systems

they rely on have also been cut or

dramatically reconfigured. This lack

of support has continued throughout

multiple waves of the virus in Alberta.

Dr. Gwen McGhan, PhD, Faculty of

Nursing, and Dr. Deirdre McCaughey,

PhD, Cumming School of Medicine,

with support from the W21C

Research and Innovation Centre,

conducted a survey during the height

of Alberta’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Researchers heard from more

than 200 Calgary area residents

who look after people living with

dementia. Results of the initial study

highlighted the burden of COVID-19

policies and public health restrictions

on caregivers and their inability to

support their loved ones.

“Being a family caregiver is an unpaid

and often unsupported role, but an

essential role, nonetheless,” says

McGhan, who is a registered nurse

and principal investigator of the study.

“Family caregivers provide physical,

emotional, and financial support

to a parent, spouse, neighbour or

friend, and help them with essential

everyday tasks they may not be able

complete by themselves.”

Family caregivers Sheena Bates

and Daniel Gaetano have partnered

with these University of Calgary

researchers to generate awareness

of these challenges and provide

policy recommendations for future

emergency planning.

Sheena Bates is a full-time family

caregiver at home for her husband,

Paul, who lives with dementia, and

the role is complex. “You always

have to be on the ball, you are

responsible,” says Bates. “You need

to still respect their independence

as much as you can. I keep reading

and trying to learn more to help

us and other people in the same

position. It can be tough.”

Bates has been providing full-time

care for Paul at home since 2017,

assisting him with tasks such as

dressing, showering, shaving, and

toileting. Before the pandemic, Paul

attended adult day programs, and

together they would participate

in conversation cafes and other

meetings for family caregivers and

their partners. They also received a

few hours of respite care each week.

COVID-19 halted all these supports.

“Paul’s needs increased, at least

partly because of no social contact,

and that all falls on you,” says

Bates. “We couldn’t see other

family members or friends for some

months; it was very isolating.”

Daniel Gaetano has been a full-time

family caregiver for his wife, Janet,

since 2015, who is now in a long-term

care facility. Before the pandemic,

Gaetano would visit twice a day to

support her at mealtimes, provide

connection, and to keep her walking.

With the restrictions he was unable

to access the facility to provide care

for Janet.

“All of a sudden you have this big

void. You are her caregiver; this is

who you are, and this is what you do,”

says Gaetano. “When that was taken

away, you can’t really start anything

else. You just have to wait until you

can become her caregiver again.”

The feedback from caregivers

through this study has allowed

the researchers to provide several

policy recommendations to enhance

community supports: maintaining

tailored caregiving assistance and

resources; providing clear, correct,

and concise information on public

health protocols; and allowing family

caregivers continued access to

care recipients as they provide an

essential role. As the virus continues

to adapt and family caregivers wait

for their resources and support

services to resume, there is an

ongoing need to understand their

experiences in order to guide future

policy recommendations.

“As an unpaid caregiver, fatigue

and anxiety is still happening,”

says Gaetano. “The pandemic has

highlighted these issues for

unpaid caregivers.”

This research led by Dr. Gwen

McGhan, RN, PhD, Faculty of Nursing

and Dr. Deirdre McCaughey, PhD,

Cumming School of Medicine,

was conducted in partnership and

supported by the Alzheimer Society

of Calgary, Dementia Network

Calgary, Alzheimer Society of Alberta

and Northwest Territories, the

Drummond Foundation, and Alberta

SPOR Support Unit.


W21C Research and Innovation Centre Annual Report 20202021 | COMMUNITY 16


Alberta Health Services’ Assess, Treat,

and Refer Coordination Centre

Improving access to mobile medicine for health care

W21C helped our

program identify new

process improvement

ideas, which in turn

allowed us to implement

solutions that increased our

overall efficiency and quality of

care we provide to our patients.

W21C was able to expand

upon on our current patient

care model by allowing us to

step back and find previously

unidentified patterns and

connections that turned into

new ideas and solutions. The

support the W21C provided our

Community Paramedic program

was fantastic and we continue to

implement solutions based on

the recommendations created by

the W21C team.”

Ryan Kozicky

Director, EMS Mobile Integrated Healthcare



W21C acts as a research consultancy, supporting

innovators from the health system, academic

institutions, industry, and the public sector. We

receive core operational funding from a variety

of provincial, national, and international funding

bodies, peer-reviewed granting agencies,

corporate donors, and industry partnerships.

This funding enables W21C to provide research

expertise and lab infrastructure on a cost-recovery

basis, allowing us to validate new technological

solutions and applications in real health-care

settings. We also receive grants supporting

specific research projects. The funding received

to date has strengthened our international

reputation as a trusted and impartial source of

high-quality research services and evidence—

helping innovators bring new products to market

and improving patient safety and quality of care in

our health systems.


We would like to thank the W21C Executive

Committee, which is currently comprised of

our founders and senior research faculty. This

committee works closely with the directors to

provide strategic guidance to the W21C Research

and Innovation Centre.


The AHS Assess, Treat, and Refer

(ATR) Coordination Centre, a

community paramedicine program,

provides an incredible service.

Every day, their interdisciplinary

team of patient coordinators (PCs),

community paramedics, and on-call

physicians strive to improve access

and provide innovative approaches

to mobile medicine for health care.

ATR increases accessibility to primary

and urgent care, by coordinating with

local care practitioners to support inhome

medical treatment for patients.

Through this unique approach

to patient care, the ATR reduces

the burden on our health system,

providing services traditionally

requiring emergency medical

services (EMS), emergency

departments, or hospital admissions.

In performing their duties and

completing their assignments, the

ATR team works with a variety of

software and digital tools. The ATR

program managers were looking to

understand if these technological

systems cause undue cognitive strain

and inefficiency on their team.

W21C worked with the ATR team to

conduct a multi-phase evaluation

of their technological systems. This

project was conducted in two

phases. In Phase 1, W21C identified

information and communication

technology requirements that

would enhance performance and

satisfaction for the PCs. In Phase 2,

the W21C Human Factors team

sought to understand and document

the workflows, skills, and traits

that PCs require to undertake their

tasks and roles within the ATR

Coordination Centre.

Through observations and interviews

with ATR staff in Calgary, the

research team recognized that much

of the work undertaken by the staff

closely resembled that of an IT help desk ticketing

system. They identified twelve core challenging

tasks within the ATR program with the possibility

for refinement. Working as the command centre for

the entire South Zone, ATR staff would handle such

tasks as scheduling appointments, coordinating with

care practitioners, and communicating with external

health-care staff, just to name a few, with many of

these tasks being repetitive and mentally tedious.

W21C provided AHS with recommendations to

alleviate the mental burdens for the staff members

and suggested that greater investment in automation

would further ease those challenges. These could

be valuable as the Government of Alberta looks

to merge the ATR program with other potentially

similar programs in the future.

John Conly, MD, Medical Director

Barry Baylis, MD, Senior Researcher and

Executive Committee Member

William Ghali, MD, MPH, Senior Researcher and

Executive Committee Member

W21C is also supported by academic faculty

conducting population or health systems research,

and individuals working on the front lines of patient

care. These leaders continue to identify gaps or

opportunities within the health system and work

with us to explore solutions. Please visit w21c.

org/about for a full list of operations and research

teams, academic faculty, and Unit 36 leadership.


W21C Research and Innovation Centre Annual Report 20202021 | COMMUNITY 18

GD01, TRW Building

3280 Hospital Drive NW

Calgary, AB T2N 4Z6






W21C, University of Calgary


W21C is located on the traditional territories of the people of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta.

The City of Calgary is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region III.

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