Above: Professor Fran McInerney, ACU and Mercy Health’s new Chair of Aged Care
By Keryn Curtis
Professor McInerney, whose appointment will be formally announced next week, will have responsibility for conducting research in aged care and fostering links between clinicians, academics and the industry. The role will also examine evidence based practice in aged care and guide training to improve the skills of research and care staff.
Professor McInerney, who will be based in Mercy Health’s Parkville research precinct in Melbourne, will also work closely with the recently established Mental Health Cooperative Research Centre (CRC). Mercy Healthcare is one of the collaborators in the CRC which seeks to identify early indicators for dementia and other neurodegenerative illnesses and promote the skill and value of aged care practice in the future of health care.
Professor McInerney will be a member of the CRC’s research management committee as well as its education committee which will drive the education program and community plan. The role is seen as central to ensuring research outcomes are translated into better outcomes for affected people and practical solutions for medical practitioners, aged care workers and carers generally. Together with other CRC researchers, Professor McInerney will participate in delivering public lectures on the latest findings in the field.
“The focus of the role is several-fold,” said Professor McInerney. “But as a researcher it is about generating and applying evidence or knowledge to enhance aged care practice in the aged care setting. So a strong element is workforce development.
“Workforce is a major issue across the whole healthcare sector but the residential and community care sectors do have particular challenges, with care workers having to understand an increasingly complex set of needs in older clients.”
Professor McInerney said dementia was clearly a key area of the workforce development work.
“Healthcare workers need to be exposed to the best knowledge about the whole dementia journey – including the pathophysiology, behavioural challenges, the disease trajectory and also end of life. There needs to be a strong clinical focus – looking at areas such as depression and delirium and responses to pain – as well as the social side of dementia and families.
“Helping healthcare workers to understand and respond to people across the total dementia journey will be an important part of this work,” she said.
Part of the solution
Professor McInerney says the beauty of being a researcher embedded within an organisation is that you can be part of the solution.
“ACU has developed this model of joint clinical care where we ask, what might embedded research be able to feed back into the university, to drive learning and provide post-graduate opportunities, for example? And then what can the ongoing presence of research do within an organisation to drive better practice?
“The main research approach will be participatory and collaborative action-based research. With this approach we can talk with staff, identify a priority for research, understand their knowledge of it and the factors that might limit their ability to manage and respond to the problem. And we can work with them so we are applying the knowledge.
“I’m talking about engaging with the workforce and giving them the opportunity to participate and evaluate tools and approaches and then continue to contribute to the way we modify or change approaches to sustain them over time,” she said.
The ACU/Mercy Health Chair of Aged Care will also explore other opportunities for collaboration with other research organisations and aged care providers.
“We don’t work in isolation and will be exploring the opportunity to work with other CRCs and other players like Alzheimer’s Australia and Palliative Care Australia, to pool our resources and get the national conversation going.
“At this point in time it seems there are a lot of [aged care researchers] who are passionate about our field and about promoting our agenda. Through the platforms of various organisations, like the CRCs and a vibrant Australian Association of Gerontology (AAG), our ears are always up for opportunities to work together.
Professor McInerney said she expected to see more embedded research and teaching appointments like this one.
“There are other joint appointments being explored by ACU for example. With the growing proportion of older people in our society it is something we need to respond to. My hope is that aged care is progressively seen as a central part of healthcare – not something peripheral – that all health workers will be exposed to. Ageing is something that happens to all of us and we need a national research agenda realistically applying the best possible knowledge and practice.”
The ACU Mercy Health Chair of Aged Care is being funded by the Trust Company of Mercy Health, acting as trustee for the Fred P. Archer Charitable Trust via a $1million gift of support for the initiative.