Tracey Rickards: Moving things forward for vulnerable populations | UNB
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Spring/Summer 2021

Alumni and Research Changemaker

Tracey Rickards: Moving things forward for vulnerable populations

ALUMNI NEWS MAGAZINE | Spring/Summer 2021

Tracey Rickards (BN’86, MN’05) considers herself among an army of ‘subtle changemakers’ – those who do little things on a constant basis to move the needle.  

As an associate professor of nursing at UNB and the UNB manager of the Fredericton Downtown Community Health Clinic, she conducts research to identify transformative solutions to improve health outcomes for vulnerable populations in the region.  

Dr. Rickards says she grew up with a sense of wanting to make the world a better place. “My mom was a nurse, my father a forestry professor and both were tree huggers. My step-mother is also an activist, so I had really good mentors. I realized early on that I had a cushy life and also had the ability to address certain injustices.” 

She’s been doing just that.  

After graduating from nursing at UNB, she worked at the Toronto General Hospital for a stint and then moved back to New Brunswick to work at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital and with the extra-mural program for years. 

When she returned to UNB to study for her master’s degree, she began working at the Downtown Community Health Clinic, then located in a small home on Brunswick Street.  

“I loved that we worked with an interdisciplinary team to provide health and mental health services and access to social development, housing, whatever the vulnerable populations we served needed. It made an impact.”  

As she continued her work and got a PhD in nursing from Dalhousie University, Dr. Rickards focused more and more on research and clinical work on vulnerable populations. She’s now an embedded clinician researcher in the larger Fredericton Downtown Community Health Centre and recently received $1.5 million in funding from the Healthy Seniors Pilot Project for Mobile Seniors’ Wellness Network: Reaching Rural New Brunswickers 

This innovative project has the potential to contribute to the ability of seniors to age-in-place. Along with team members Emily Kitts (BSc’05), manager of the Fredericton Downtown Community Health Centre, and Dr. Karen Cross from St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, the project provides a whole-person centered approach within the homes of vulnerable and isolated older adults.  

“We had done a small pilot project before applying for this funding where we went into the homes of low-income seniors in the city who were isolated because of mobility, chronic disease or mental health issues. We offered free foot care as a tool of engagement, and while there, we talked to the seniors about their health care, wellness, and any other needs they had. Over a period of six months, half were able to get out of their homes to come to the clinic for health care and we were able to connect them with other services as well. We saw appreciable differences in their understanding of their diseases and medications and we saw quality-of-life improvements.”  

The team saw a gap in rural services for seniors who weren’t very mobile. At the same time, they connected with Dr. Cross, who has created a tool that incorporates a tiny camera on the back of a phone that takes infrared photos of the foot. “Teaming up helps build research for R&D of the tool, and allows us to provide foot service for free to rural seniors to help them prevent more serious problems,” says Dr. Rickards. “It puts them in touch with someone on a regular basis who can provide them with educational services and become a connector and navigator for them to find what they need to be safe, healthy and happy at home as long as they can. It can be life changing for them.” 

"The change we’re trying to demonstrate is that it’s better to stay at home and offer services there instead of requiring vulnerable seniors to come to us. And that making regular visits and having a team of nurses, social workers, occupational therapists and home support workers is still cheaper than providing long-term care at a facility. We have an aging province and we need to help people remain active members of the community.”  

“The change we’re trying to demonstrate is that it’s better to stay at home and offer services there instead of requiring vulnerable seniors to come to us.”

Dr. Rickards says the study is ongoing until October 2022 and she’s thrilled to be working on the project in a multidisciplinary format. “Getting everyone working together makes so much sense. We have a great team. The success we’ve already had, proves that we don’t have to do something huge to make change. What encourages me every day is that I can consistently do small things in people’s lives and make a positive impact.”