Meet Christine Kelly, 2020 Rh Award Winner in the Health Sciences category
Christine Kelly is an assistant professor of community health sciences in the Max Rady College of Medicine, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences. She is the 2020 recipient of the Terry G. Falconer Memorial Rh Institute Foundation Emerging Researcher Award in the Health Sciences category, in recognition of her research excellence. UM Today caught up with her recently to learn more about him and the research he is undertaking.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your research.
I am predominantly a qualitative policy researcher and my interest stems back to my Master’s degree in Disability Studies here at UM. During that time, I learned about disability movements and activism, which has become a secondary research focus of mine. I also learned about a specific type of home care advocated for by people with disabilities throughout the world. It has a lot of different names, such as self-managed, direct payments, cash-for-care, but I generally use the term ‘directly-funded home care.’ This is when people receive a budget to arrange their own home care services. My research largely focuses on this example of home care, which research has shown that home care clients overwhelmingly prefer this model over regular options. I have looked at many different angles and examples of directly-funded home care across Canada from the point of view of policy makers, people with disabilities, older people, informal caregivers and paid care workers. My PhD was a study of the program in Ontario that eventually resulted in the book Disability Politics and Care: The Challenge of Direct Funding. I found that changing the meanings of care at the policy level changed the experiences of home care for individual clients and workers. I was successful in obtaining a CIHR project grant at the outset of my position at UM. Working with researchers, governments and organizations across the country, we did media scan of discourses around directly-funded home care in Ontario, a national inventory of all programs that use direct payments and spoke in depth to people using the Manitoba program. This study laid the ground work and identified key gaps in the research that I am taking up in a new CIHR-funded study that is beginning now. My work is continuing and I am incredibly grateful to all of the researchers, governments and non-profit organizations who are supporting and interested in this work.
Why is this research important?
COVID-19 has revealed now, more than ever, we need high quality care options outside of residential care. Without question, home care services are important and it is imperative to conduct ongoing research to ensure that the services are designed in ways that consider the different populations and reasons for home care. Home care is not just about medical or health support, although that is important, but about holistic, person-centred and respectful care in all aspects of life.
Disability activists show us that home care services are not neutral policies that help “passive patients” but are essential for people of all ages and stages to thrive in communities. How can you participate in social events, work, or anything else you may want to do if you don’t have the support you need to get dressed in the morning? Older people overwhelmingly want to age in their homes, but we need adequate and high quality services to support them. On the other side of things, care work is one of the fastest growing fields of occupation and policy and research is needed to support this growth.
In many ways, directly-funded home care seems like a promising solution to relieve the strain on home care systems and a real attempt to “do things differently.” But it’s not that straight forward, as we see in other countries, the more people use this model, some of the benefits are lost. In Canada we have a complex situation where some provinces allow the funds to be used to hire home care agencies, rather than hiring someone directly from your community – do we still see the same benefits when we do this? What about people in rural environments, does the program work well there? Who is using DF care, is it only people with lots of social and economic capital? My research shows that we have to attend, watch and implement these policies with a great deal, of well, in fact, care.
What does the Rh Award mean to you?
It is an amazing honor, it cements my transition from the social sciences to health. In terms of an unstructured fund, it enables me to support my graduate students with their work and other activities that fall outside of the budgets of other grants.
What do you hope to achieve in the future?
My program of research is growing and I’m at a crucial growth point in my career. I am moving towards broader studies of home care services that are beyond this specific policy I have been studying for so long. I will continue to contribute in that area, but I feel my skills and expertise are at a point that can be used to support policy reform for a wider population.
What about you would people find surprising?
I’m an enthusiastic doubles badminton player and cyclist! I wouldn’t say I’m particularly talented at either, but I get a lot of enjoyment from these activities.