Change of guard at NARI

Professor Tracy Comans takes over the helm from Professor Briony Dow who is retiring after 21 years with the independent ageing, health and aged care research agency.

Physiotherapist and economist Professor Tracy Comans has commenced as director of Melbourne-based independent ageing, health and aged care research agency the National Ageing Research Institute.

She replaces Professor Briony Dow, who is retiring after nine years at the helm and 21 years with the 50-year-old organisation.

Professor Tracy Comans – who took over as director last week – is a UQ Amplify Fellow at the Centre for Health Services Research, University of Queensland, and an adjunct research fellow at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital. She has a clinical background specialising in aged care, dementia and rehabilitation and is known for her innovative application of economics in health services and for developing the prototype for the aged care star ratings system.

Professor Tracy Comans is honoured to step into the role of director at NARI – “an esteemed institution that I have long admired,” she said. “I look forward to playing my role in ensuring NARI continues to build on its legacy, working with our staff and partners to deliver improved outcomes for older people across Australia and around the world.”

Professor Tracy Comans (left) and Professor Briony Dow

Welcoming her to the role, NARI board president Associate Professor Michael Murray noted her qualifications in economics and physiotherapy as particularly useful as the demand for high-quality health services for older people increases.

“Her experience and expertise ensure we are well-positioned to continue to deliver innovative translational research that allows older people to spend less time unwell and in hospital; and more time healthy and connected.”

Professor Dow agreed. “She’ll do a wonderful job,” the outgoing director told Australian Ageing Agenda during an in-depth interview for the forthcoming edition of AAA magazine. “It’s good that she’s different,” added Professor Dow, referring to their different areas of clinical expertise and specialisation.

“I’m a social worker, and I’ve probably directed NARI much more into social gerontology,” she said. “All this codesign and consumer engagement comes from my world view of what’s important. And she’ll have a different worldview of what’s important from a health economic perspective. What will be consistent is she’s a physiotherapist – there’s a big clinical focus, obviously at NARI. We won’t lose anything that we’ve gained, but we’ll build a whole other area.”

Over 150 peer-reviewed papers and govt reports

As director, Professor Dow led a range of aged care, social and clinical gerontology research programs, incorporating her own research into elder abuse and carer mental health. She began working at the NARI as a research fellow for 12 years prior to that, and during her time with the translational research organisation published more than 120 peer-reviewed publications and 40 major reports to government.

She also played a key role in the nation’s professional body for experts in ageing – Australian Association of Gerontology – where she became Victorian president in 2009 and then national president from 2013 to 2015. Before entering the world of research, Professor Dow worked as a social worker, including at the Clarendon Community Mental Health Clinic and program lead for a home-based rehabilitation program at Ballarat Health Services.

There is little doubt that her work will continue to have a positive impact on the aged care sector into the future

Associate Professor Michael Murray

Associate Professor Murray thanked Professor Dow for her 20-plus years of dedicated service and groundbreaking work in gerontology.

“From her pivotal role at the National Ageing Research Institute to her leadership in elder abuse research, Professor Dow leaves behind an impressive legacy. There is little doubt that her work will continue to have a positive impact on the aged care sector into the future,” he said.

On the biggest changes she’s seen over the past two decades, Professor Dow highlighted the area she’s specialised most in – elder abuse. “That’s something that just wasn’t even on the agenda 21 years ago, particularly from a research perspective, or really from any perspective.

“The services that we now have, and the focus on prevention has emerged over the last 21 years, and the evidence base behind that is something that I feel like I’ve personally contributed to, and I feel is an achievement.”

To read more of Professor Dow’s conversation with AAA, read the next edition of Australian Ageing Agenda magazine, out next month.

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