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FCS COVID-19 rapid response research grants

A second round of FCS research projects has been funded
February 17, 2021

The Faculty of Community Services (FCS) is pleased to announce the second round of rapid response research initiatives as part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Eight new projects have been funded by the faculty, which join 10 COVID-19 rapid response research projects that were funded in the first round in the spring of 2020.

Ontario’s COVID-19 Decision-making Response: Impacts on Frontline Healthcare Workers

Oona St. Amant, Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the organizational culture of Canadian healthcare practice. Throughout the pandemic, public health agencies have coordinated healthcare responses including practice guidelines and testing parameters for healthcare workers. In Ontario, healthcare providers comprise nearly 1 in 5 of all COVID-19 cases, four times the infection rate of their counterparts in Wuhan. Healthcare providers who are pregnant, have underlying health conditions, or are older than 55 years of age, and are working in ‘hot zones’ (e.g., intensive care units, emergency rooms) bear even greater risk for exposure and complications if infected with COVID-19. Yet, early in the pandemic, many of these providers were called to the frontline. Messaging like ‘deployment’ and ‘solidarity’ compelled many healthcare providers to respond to their professional obligations and to work despite concerns for their safety and that of their families. How decision-making is informed by organizational culture and messaging is the focus of this study by Oona St. Amant and her team from Ryerson (Karline Wilson-Mitchell, Midwifery Education Program; Henry Parada, School of Social Work; and J. Anneke Rummens, Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing).

Specifically, the team will analyze discourses that inform guiding policies and standards of care, and will identify how objects associated with the pandemic – such as masks and other personal protective equipment for healthcare providers – have taken on symbolic meaning in everyday life. The findings will be used to engage in dialogue with professional associations and advocate for safe and equitable policies and practices for frontline healthcare providers across Ontario.

Marginalized Homeless Youth during COVID-19

Dawn Onishenko, School of Social Work 

In this study, Dawn Onishenko will consider deep historical disparities that are made visible in a pandemic by focusing on the compounded effect of COVID-19 on youth from marginalized communities who have experienced homelessness. Joined by Dionisio Nyaga, School of Social Work, Ryerson University and Rose Torres, Department of Social Sciences, University of New Brunswick, she will also explore the impact and efficacy of policies and programs designed to support marginalized youth experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. This study answers the call for social work to engage with structural issues facing historically excluded communities in ways that are intersectional and complex. 

The study will investigate how COVID-19 is affecting excluded and marginalized youth in terms of unemployment, health, and housing, and will open new conversations about how historical injustices continue to be compounded, aggravated, and exacerbated. Of particular importance is understanding how housing intersects with substance use, mental health, policing, bullying, and harassment.

By examining hidden injustices that are being unmasked during COVID-19, Onishenko and her team will help unravel the historical disparities resulting from colonization, racism, homophobia, ableism, and heteropatriarchy. The findings will inform social work practice and help transform practice with marginalized communities.

Telemedicine for Children and Adolescents with Diabetes during COVID-19

Enza Gucciardi, School of Nutrition

COVID-19 has created a unique set of restrictions to in-person medical care that have forced a dramatic and rapid increase in the use of telehealth services. This may be particularly challenging for pediatric diabetes management, which is complex and requires frequent contact with a multidisciplinary team to achieve optimal outcomes. Previous studies of children with diabetes have found that telehealth services can lead to high patient satisfaction, increase access to care in geographically remote populations, and increase the frequency of follow-up appointments. However, they have not included diverse pediatric patient populations and have neglected important challenges, including access to appropriate technology, privacy, and technological literacy.

Enza Gucciardi and her team from Ryerson (Sri Krishnan, Department of Electrical, Computer, and Biomedical Engineering; Donna Koller, School of Early Childhood Studies) have partnered with The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto to examine access to, and use of, technology as it relates to videoconferencing and telemedicine-based care of patients within the diabetes clinic at SickKids. Specifically, the study will explore the views of families and pediatric healthcare providers to identify efficiencies and inefficiencies in current telehealth programs.

It is vital to assess current programs to identify patient-specific needs and barriers to care because no-one can determine how long COVID-19-related restrictions will last. This study will contribute important findings for the delivery of virtual care that can best meet the needs of this vulnerable patient group.

Our Lands, Our Terms: Fighting COVID-19 Through Grassroots Territorial Control in Chile

Magdalena Ugarte, School of Urban and Regional Planning

The Chilean government’s handling of the pandemic has received criticism due to its delays and reactiveness – particularly during the early stages – its lack of transparency when reporting infection, testing, and death rates, and its insufficient economic measures. Within Chile’s centralized political context, public health policy is determined nationally but implemented locally by municipalities with radically dissimilar financial and healthcare capabilities. In this context, small towns and rural areas with high Indigenous populations are hyper-vulnerable.

Working closely with Indigenous partners in Chile, Magdalena Ugarte is examining the potential of grassroots Indigenous-led responses to the pandemic, focusing on the spontaneous rise of community-led ‘cordons sanitaires’ in Chile’s Tirua area. Well before the government implemented quarantines and other measures, Lafkenche communities took health matters into their own hands by exercising territorial control and organizing around food security in collaboration with civil society organizations. Through community checkpoints and strict access protocols, the communities were able to maintain low infection rates for several months, and also engaged in intercultural solidarity efforts with non-Indigenous people and the municipal government.

Understanding the rise, evolution, and effectiveness of this local response can reveal the power of community-led public health efforts in places where state action is insufficient or inadequate, and allow Ugarte and her community research partners to identify how local, contextual knowledge has the potential to contribute to emergency preparedness in a pandemic context. Beyond the pandemic, this study could have implications for Mapuche struggles for Indigenous territorial control.

Campus Inclusivity: Exploring the Lived Experiences of International Students During COVID-19

Zhixi Cecilia Zhuang, School of Urban and Regional Planning

International students are important for Canada’s economic prosperity, knowledge networks, and global competitiveness – a fact recognized by major investments from the federal government to attract more international students to Canada. Yet higher education institutions struggle to integrate and support them, especially in the context of COVID-19. Understanding how COVID-19 has affected their experience of campus inclusivity is the focus of this project by Zhixi Cecilia Zhuang.

Past research has shown that many international students suffer from adjustment difficulties and feel disconnected from their host community. These issues have worsened during the current global COVID-19 crisis – international students now face the added challenges of social isolation, financial instability, poor mental health, and potential exclusion from the virtual classroom, as well as increased border restrictions, travel bans, and career and residency uncertainty.

Like other universities across Canada, Ryerson is implementing internationalization strategies, but how these strategies can address existing resource gaps for international students on physical and virtual campuses during the time of COVID-19 is unknown. Zhuang will explore the social, cultural, health, financial, and academic needs of international students within the context of the pandemic, as well as their perceptions, perspectives, and personal narratives about integration and inclusivity. The findings will help universities identify and develop resources, services, and infrastructure to meet the immediate and longer-term needs of international students. This project will contribute to an existing international research partnership among 11 countries that will produce a comparative understanding of international student experiences across borders.

Homelessness and Food Insecurity During COVID-19 Among Pregnant and Postpartum People in Toronto

Barbara Chyzzy, Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing

Even before COVID-19, many shelters for homeless pregnant and postpartum people were already over capacity in Toronto, and food insecurity was common among this extremely vulnerable population. Since the pandemic hit, existing shelter resources have been strained even more. Despite the City adding temporary shelter sites at hotels, shared sleeping areas continue to place shelter residents at increased risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2. The combination of housing insecurity, food insecurity, and their increased risk of contracting the virus places these parents and their infants at significant health risk. This research aims to document the experiences of this vulnerable population as they navigate their perinatal care, the shelter system, and access to food during COVID-19.

This study builds on work that Barbara Chyzzy has been conducting since 2011 with the ‘Young Parents No Fixed Address’ network to address issues of importance to young, under-housed parents in the Greater Toronto Area. Joined by an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Ryerson (Sepali Guruge, Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing; Enza Gucciardi, School of Nutrition; Nicole Bennett, Midwifery Education Program; and Anita Ewan, School of Early Childhood Studies ), and over 30 agency partners, Chyzzy is examining individual, interpersonal, institutional, and structural factors that affect access to adequate housing/food and prenatal and postpartum supports.

Individual interviews with pregnant and postpartum people will allow the team to learn first-hand what services have worked well for their families and what can be improved. The findings will be used to develop policy and practice recommendations to share with the City, social service agencies, and interdisciplinary front-line service providers in Toronto.

Efficacy of an Online American Sign Language Teaching Model for Parents of Young Deaf Children During COVID-19

Kristin Snoddon, School of Early Childhood Studies

COVID-19 has exacerbated educational inequities for deaf learners who use American Sign Language (ASL) in addition to other languages. In particular, school closures have heightened the importance of supporting parent-child communication in ASL in family homes. Without access to sign language, many deaf children are at risk for language deprivation, which can have lifelong negative effects on their social and emotional development including incomplete knowledge of any language. With continued disruptions to in-person learning, the onus is on parents of deaf children to learn ASL themselves in order to support their children. Distance learning has become paramount during this pandemic, and it is essential that an effective model of online ASL teaching is available for families with young deaf children, to help disrupt educational inequities.

In this study, Kristin Snoddon is assessing an online teaching model that uses the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages to determine how well it meets the second or additional language American Sign Language learning needs of parents of young deaf children. Over the nine-month study period, intensive courses are being adapted and developed for rapid implementation of online instruction of American Sign Language for parents. By examining the learning processes and experiences of teachers and parents, Snoddon’s study will inform American Sign Language teaching practices, resource development, and policymaking to meet the online learning needs of diverse families with young deaf children. This is a critical contribution within the context of COVID-19 that will have continued benefits beyond the current pandemic context.

COVID-19 Case and Contact Management Teams in Ontario

Fatih Sekercioglu, School of Occupational and Public Health

Case and contact management is a specialized skill that public health professionals use for the investigation of confirmed COVID-19 cases and is key to effective pandemic management. Earlier in the pandemic, Ontario’s 34 public health units were mandated to establish teams to conduct COVID-19 case investigations to control and prevent COVID-19 exposure in the community. The magnitude of COVID-19 has required the rapid expansion of these teams, which are typically comprised of public health professionals. Understanding how new and experienced team members are managing the crucial role they are playing in keeping the Canadian population healthy and safe is key to supporting and sustaining their efforts.

Joined by Richard Meldrum and Ian Young, also from the School of Occupational and Public Health, Fatih Sekercioglu is exploring the experiences of case and contact management team members, many of whom have been working in these roles since the beginning of the pandemic. Examining their experiences will identify issues they face and to explore short and long-term strategies to address them. The research team will use the findings to inform strategies to support case and contact management programs and staff members. The results may be applied to other jurisdictions within Canada and beyond.