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Adrian GutaUWindsor social work professor Adrian Guta is leading a research project that will help decision-makers implement better policies on addiction services in response to COVID-19.

Pandemic research to help people who use drugs

A social work professor at the University of Windsor is leading international research into how the current pandemic is affecting people who use drugs.

Adrian Guta has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to conduct a review of how harm-reduction programs and other addiction services have changed in response to COVID-19. Leading the project together with experts across Canada and one in Australia, he will compile all the available literature on the topic and consult supervised injection sites, overdose prevention services, and clinicians who treat people who use drugs.

The goal, he said, is to better inform decisions now and in future public health emergencies.

“People who use drugs tend to be very marginalized,” Dr. Guta said. They are the segment of society most prone to homelessness and face barriers to accessing health care. The effects of social distancing, isolation, quarantine are hitting them especially hard.

“When you are a person who uses drugs, accessing basic needs is harder, so the closures of programs are disproportionately affecting them.”

Because of COVID-19, many of the social and health services on which people who use drugs depend have reduced operating hours or closed altogether. Pointing to the decision to discontinue the needle-exchange program in prisons previously being phased in by Corrections Canada, Guta said, “Harm reduction initiatives have been discontinued using the pandemic as the stated rationale without adequate justification… Evidence synthesis is critically needed to support decision making at this time.”

Guta cites Windsor’s 18 overdose deaths in one week last month, and others happening across the province and country, as a possible consequence of COVID-19. He believes at least some of the deaths could have been prevented if Ontario doctors had guidelines on prescribing a “safe supply” of opioids, benzodiazepines, and stimulants to drug users to support their ability to remain isolated and to reduce the risk of overdose from adulterated street drugs. British Columbia is the only province with such guidelines.

“Safe supply is critically needed, but to my knowledge, there are no prescribers in the Windsor-Essex region,” he said. “There are some willing prescribers scattered across the province, but Ontario should be following B.C.’s lead and making safe supply available to all people who use drugs to reduce their risk of overdose and support their ability to physically distance during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Guta has partnered on the research project with the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and the Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange.

The leaders of addiction programs say there is a lack of clarity about best practices during this time, Guta said. They worry not only about increased risks of drug overdoses, the lack of a safe supply of drugs, and willing prescribers, but diminishing services that provide shelter and food to vulnerable populations.

An informal survey of harm-reduction workers showed they are rapidly redesigning their services to ensure a safe working environment. Some are delivering their services electronically or over the phone.

As part of the project, Guta and his fellow researchers will translate the scientific evidence into an accessible public service announcement.

Guta is also co-leading a two-year research project funded by the Ontario HIV Treatment Network on emergency safe supply programs. He and University of Toronto’s Carol Strike have been awarded a $270,000 to research how to bridge HIV prevention, treatment and care for people who inject drugs.

An HIV researcher, Guta also recently co-authored an article in the journal AIDS and Behaviour entitled, “Pandemic.”

—Sarah Sacheli

Informatics graphicContinuing Education has wrapped up the first class of its health informatics program.

Initial cohort completes continuing education in health informatics

The first cohort of Continuing Education’s health informatics offering has successfully wrapped up, marking a significant achievement for the learners and course collaborators in the faculties of nursing and science and at TransForm Shared Service Organization, which is responsible for the implementation of a state-of-the-art hospital information system in Windsor-Essex and Chatham hospitals.

Lyn Baluyot, vice president, chief transformation officer, says the program is uniquely relevant to the region.

“The provincial government has recognized this growing field as a required skill set to advance the health-care system to meet the increasing demand to integrate technology and clinical workflows to provide the best care to the patient and enable those caring for patients,” she says. “It is important that these skills be developed and be developed locally, as Erie St. Clair region will need to have the right individuals to support the evolving needs of the health system.”

Course graduate Gagan Bisla already holds a Bachelor of Science degree in health information management and is planning on taking the Canadian Health Information Management Certification exam to become certified as a health informaticist.

She says that she took the UWindsor course to home in on the local sector, particularly the information technology aspect.

“I wanted more insight about health-care IT as health care is changing drastically here in Ontario and Canada,” says Bisla, citing learning about the role of Artificial Intelligence and data management as a key takeaway from the program.

The regional focus of the course is reflected throughout its curriculum, which also includes elements of project management and group work based on local issues currently faced in our systems.

“The group project allows us to apply our learning from each module into a project, and help come up with a solution for the issues that are currently being dealt with regarding the implementation of the Health Information System across the Erie St. Clair Hospitals,” Bisla says.

This applied learning was an important component for the course developers and instructors, drawn from TransForm SSO staff and the UWindsor faculties of nursing and science.

“Health informatics is a vital aspect of health care administration and delivery, however our students are exposed only to an introductory level throughout their undergraduate experience,” says Linda Patrick, dean of the Faculty of Nursing. “This course is an excellent opportunity for those interested in digging deeper and wanting to explore a career in this area.”

Baluyot agrees and is hopeful that its graduates will consider employment at TransForm SSO.

“We are interested in creating a pipeline of qualified applicants for anticipated employment opportunities within the health system in our region,” she says.

Continuing Education will run the course again in January 2021. Prospective students are encouraged to learn more about the program at continue.uwindsor.ca.

Gemma SmythWindsor Law professor Gemma Smyth is the inaugural recipient of an award from the Association for Canadian Clinical Legal Education.

Outgoing associate dean of law recipient of inaugural award

Windsor Law professor Gemma Smyth is the inaugural recipient of the Association for Canadian Clinical Legal Education’s (ACCLE) Buhler Award. Named in honour of Sarah Buhler, long-time ACCLE board member and professor at the College of Law University of Saskatchewan, the award is presented to a professor whose work intersects academic and clinical approaches to clinical and experiential legal education.

According to the association’s announcement, Prof. Smyth is being honoured in recognition of her commitment to researching the practice of clinical legal education across the country and supporting expansion of clinical and experiential programs in law schools.

“I am honoured to receive this award,” says Smyth. “Windsor Law has a deep commitment to clinical and experiential learning, and this award is a symbol of that commitment.”

Before serving her term as associate dean (academic) from July 2018 to June 2020, Smyth held the position of academic clinic director in the Faculty of Law from July 2009 to June 2015 and interim associate dean from July 2016 to June 2017. She was director of University of Windsor Mediation Services between 2003 and 2009, and has taught clinic and experiential learning courses throughout.

Smyth is the co-author of the first text on clinical legal education in Canada, with Buhler and Sarah Marsden, and she hosts an open-source Youtube channel with material on law practice, focusing on clinical skills.

—Rachelle Prince

Accessibility Content CardsGuides to making content accessible are available for download.

Cards provide guidance in creating accessible content

Currently, we are working, learning, and teaching primarily in a virtual world, says Cherie Gagnon.

Accessibility manager in the Office of Human Rights, Equity, and Accessibility, she is distributing a series of quick reference guides to making content accessible to all. The result of collaboration between the accessibility committee and students, they were originally scheduled to be launched during Accessibility Awareness Day, which fell victim to coronavirus precautions.

“Ensuring documents and digital content are accessible helps you to reach your entire audience, which includes people living with disabilities,” Gagnon says. “Accessible formats make content more readable and support the use of adaptive and assistive technology to retrieve information.”

She adds that while embedding accessible elements into communication supports people with disabilities, it’s simply better for everyone.

“Communication is clearer, easier to read, easier to navigate, and more adaptable to various platforms and software,” says Gagnon. “It’s a win all the way around.”

The accessible content cards address:

  • social media
  • Microsoft Word
  • Email/Outlook
  • Microsoft Power Point
  • Adobe Acrobat
  • Microsoft Excel
  • print material

They are available for download in portable document format (PDF) from the OHREA website.

logo of the Run, Walk and Roll Individual Challenge.Today marks the start of the Run, Walk and Roll Individual Challenge.

Still time to join individual activity challenge

More than 100 UWindsor faculty and staff have signed on to a new activity encouraging them to keep moving while working from home.

The four-week Run, Walk and Roll Individual Challenge starts today and asks participants to set a daily goal of 10,000 steps or equivalent.

It’s not too late to register, says organizer Mary-Ann Rennie, chair of the University working group, Virtual Connections.

“Encourage your colleagues to join the fun while staying active and improving overall health,” she says. “It has been three months since we have been working from home and we continue to recognize the need to virtually stay connected with each other and stay physically active.”

Find details and an online registration form on the Virtual Connections website.