Former CERAH Director recognized with award

On March 12, 2015, Lakehead University hosted a Research Innovation Awards reception where Dr. Mary Lou Kelley received the social sciences and humanities research council Distinguished Researcher Award for her research that focuses on developing and evaluating health services for populations who have traditionally lacked access to care at the end of life. Promoting social justice and access to health and social services for elderly and dying people are the drivers of her research program. In particular, Dr. Kelley’s research in the last ten years has focused on improving quality and access to palliative care for people living in rural and First Nations communities and long term care homes.

Dr. Kelley has accumulated an impressive record of research. Her research record was honoured in 2006 and 2010 with Lakehead University contribution to research awards. Over the last five years Dr. Kelley has received and completed more than five million dollars in peer reviewed grants as principal investigator or co-investigator. Noteworthy in this total are two large five year grants: Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and an Aboriginal Health Intervention grant from the Canadian Institute of Health Research. Measurement of research productivity is also in publications/presentations and in this regard Dr. Kelley has authored or co-authored 45 refereed journal articles, seven book chapters, 38 technical reports and 184 conference presentations. She also served as a guest editor to the International Journal of Palliative Care. Her research gives particular attention to populations living in rural and remote areas, and in First Nation Communities. This research expertise has aligned well with the strategic research priorities for Lakehead University particularly in regards to health across the lifespan and Aboriginal studies.

Dr. Kelley’s research epitomizes collaboration as it has nurtured partnerships across disciplinary boundaries and across various universities. Most importantly her research has established partnerships with the communities that are the focus of her research. Her team’s research project entitled "Palliative Care in First Nations Communities: A Model to Guide Policy, Program and Human Resources Development" funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada shared partnerships with the Kenora Chiefs Advisory, Dilico Anishinabek Family Care and the 21 First Nations communities in Northwestern Ontario conducted the first comprehensive needs assessments in Canada to document the emerging need for palliative and end of life care services in First Nations communities from their own perspective, along with making recommendations for meeting these needs and addressing gaps in service.  This project, with the help of First Nation partners writing letters of recommendation, led to Dr. Kelley and her team receiving the Lakehead University Aboriginal Partnership award in 2011. 

Building on this previous work, the team was then funded by CIHR for a 5 year project "Improving End of Life Care in First Nations communities: Generating a Theory of Change to Guide Policy and Practice" in order to create culturally responsive models of palliative care for First Nations communities. Working with four First Nations community partners in Manitoba and Ontario, this project uses participatory action research and community capacity development as an approach to conduct the research. This has proven to be respectful and empowering for the communities and partners. Representatives from the partnering communities are members of the project management committee and provide direction and input into all stages of the research. All of the communities who have consented to participate in the research project have identified local leads in their communities who are the main contacts and have taken leadership in developing the palliative care program. There are mutual beneficial outcomes for both the researchers and First Nations communities, which include improving the quality of life and end-of-life care for people living in First Nations communities and also creating new knowledge to guide other researchers and First Nations communities who wish to conduct research to develop palliative care programs. 

The research is highly regarded in the national and international forum and has served as a model for others. As an example, in 2011 Dr. Kelley was invited to present her research findings at the Federal Parliamentary committee for Palliative and Compassionate care and the recommendations she presented were heavily quoted and included in the final report to the Federal Parliament. In addition to the high regard paid to this research program it also reflects a strong knowledge transfer focus as the research findings are leading to social change.

The other major areas of research focus in the last ten years have focused on developing palliative care in rural communities and long term care homes. In 2013, while on sabbatical in Europe, Dr. Kelley was invited to lecture and meet with research colleagues about her long term care and rural palliative care research at both Queens University in Belfast, Ireland and at the International Observatory for End of Life Care (research centre) located Lancaster University, United Kingdom.

The findings of her long term care research, namely a framework and resources for developing palliative care programs unique to long term care homes ( have been endorsed by the Ontario Long Term Care Association (OLTCA) and were consulted by Accreditation Canada to inform creation of five new accreditation standards pertaining to providing palliative care in long term care homes.

Mentorship of students is a strong suit of Dr. Kelley. For example she has been the thesis/project supervisor for 71 graduate students in three different graduate programs (Gerontology, Social Work and Public Health). She has also taught/supervised a large number of seminar courses, reading courses, practicums, projects. Her guidance and passion towards palliative care research has no doubt ignited similar flames of inquiry in these students. 

Dr. Kelley’s career has drawn attention to neglected areas requiring new models of palliative care, created new and locality specific models of service delivery and demonstrated community-driven participatory research approaches that have engaged practitioners, decision makers and students. There is also evidence that her mentorship of graduate students and health care providers to become leaders in health care and my extensive collaborations with other health services researchers and health care decision makers.

Dr. Kelley’s approach never separated research from education or university from community work, a practice now known as embedded knowledge translation (KT). She has always viewed her teaching, research, knowledge translation, and advocacy as social interventions that can improve the quality of life and health care for people who are aging and dying, their families, caregivers and communities.

Dr. Kelley is also a visionary and a builder. She was part of the Gerontology study group that established the Gerontology programs and pioneered the creation of the Centre for Education and Research in Aging and Health at Lakehead University (CERAH). A Lakehead University Distinguished Research Award recognizes Dr. Kelley’s long track record of research excellence, but more importantly it honours and promotes the values that shaped her career.  These values include respect and encouragement (for colleagues, students, community partners and research participants), creativity (i.e. in finding solutions to pressing health system issues) and persistence (i.e. in setting and then meeting personal and team goals).

Congratulations, Mary Lou!