Studies examine effective delivery of social services

By Suzanne Morrison, November 23, 2006

    Dr. Gina Browne is a professor in the School of Nursing. File photo.
Eighteen studies by researchers at McMaster University consistently show poor families and those with chronic illnesses benefit the most when they receive comprehensive health and social services rather than piecemeal help each time a crisis surfaces.

The studies, led by the System-Linked Research Unit (SLRU) in McMaster's school of nursing, have been underway since the early 1990s.

The main lessons from the studies are that it is as or more effective, and as or less expensive, to offer complete, proactive, community health services to persons living with chronic circumstances than it is to provide focused, on-demand, piecemeal services.

Dr. Gina Browne, a professor in the School of Nursing and founder and director of the SLRU, will present an overview of 12 of the studies on Monday, Dec. 4 in HSC 3E26 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

Each of the 12 studies deals with a different vulnerable population: seniors with dementia, chronically ill adults, welfare children and their parents who may suffer from mental illness.

Dr. Browne said in every study the research shows that in a system of universal health care, the piecemeal approach always costs more.

As an example, she cites the case of a patient with dementia: "If you take care of the relative with dementia in the home and not the caregiver, then the caregiver gets depressed and deposits the demented person in the hospital emergency department and runs away. So that's how (the piecemeal approach) becomes more expensive."

Dr. Browne said study after study shows that "by helping the individual, and their whole household more completely, it will be more effective and less expensive in the same year in a system of national health insurance."

She said these families need much more than just a welfare cheque.

"If you don't help with something more than their income you are just going to perpetuate the problem," she said.

Research undertaken by Dr. Browne is currently used as the basis for the development of numerous programs throughout Ontario.

The System-Linked Research Unit initiates, implements and co-ordinates studies of persons with several simultaneous problems who are using health and social services. The studies test the effectiveness and efficiency of multisectoral and proactive service interventions provided through alliances between service agencies for vulnerable children, adults and seniors.