University of Calgary
UofC Navigation

Introducing the O'Brien Institute for Public Health

David and Gail O'Brien

David & Gail O'Brien

September, 2014

The University of Calgary will continue to study ways of improving the health-care system and new ways to prevent disease, thanks to a $12-million donation from Gail and David O’Brien. The gift will support research and education objectives of the newly named O’Brien Institute for Public Health.

“This gift is an important investment in better health and health care in our local, national and global communities, coming from highly respected community leaders and tremendous friends of the University of Calgary, David and Gail O’Brien,” said Elizabeth Cannon, president of the University of Calgary. “Our researchers have a critical role in corroborating potential improvements for Canada’s public health system. The goal of the O’Brien Institute is to enhance health policy and to ensure that health research knowledge is translated into new models of care. ”

As longstanding, generous and engaged supporters of the University of Calgary, the O’Briens committed this gift in recognition of the importance of an institute that supports the mandate of offering better health and better health care.

“We are excited and proud to support the Institute for Public Health at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, impacting the future of health and health care for Albertans,” says Gail O’Brien. “As the hub bringing together the best and most innovative minds across the health sciences spectrum, producing critically important evidenced-based research will lead to new knowledge and public policy. We are hopeful the institute’s work will lead to huge strides in reducing the numbers of chronically ill as well as the challenges around health advocacy and prevention in Alberta – we see tremendous hope for the future of health and health care.”

To read more on the O'Briens


Ten ways O'Brien Institute members make a difference to your health

Here’s a look at just 10 research portfolios from members of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the University of Calgary that have made an impact in our community. This list provides a brief snapshot of some of the incredible work being conducted in Calgary, moving us closer to better health and health care in the future. To read more, please Click Here

The realtionship between the environment and our health 

The relationship between the environment and our health

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a potentially debilitating and incurable disease of the gastrointestinal tract affecting 233,000 Canadians, and can potentially lead to lifelong pain, intestinal bleeding and diarrhea. Institute member Dr. Gil Kaplan was the first to find a link between IBD and air pollution, after conditions including heart and lung disease were also correlated to the air we breathe.

 Improving care experience for those with chronic conditions

Improving care experience for those with chronic conditions

More than 60 per cent of Canadians have a chronic disease requiring care. As a clinical endocrinologist, Dr. Doreen Rabi’s research focuses on both health population and improvements within the health system. She looks at improving the care experience for people with chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, gender differences in disease, and health tools to better connect patients with their doctors.

 National food policies and health

National food policies and health

Poor diet and unhealthy lifestyles are major contributors to cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer, and the leading causes of death and disability in Canada. Institute members like Dr. Norm Campbell, Charlene Elliott, PhD, and Lindsay McLaren, PhD, have developed research and policy recommendations to reduce salt and trans fat content in processed foods. They are also looking at how food marketing affects the health of our populations. Through this work, the development of national food and nutrition policies will help reduce the burden of health conditions caused by poor diets.

 Injury prevention in sport

Injury prevention in sport

35 per cent of youth in Alberta will suffer a sport or recreational injury each year that will sideline them from the activities they love. Institute members such as Carolyn Emery, PhD, and Brent Hagel, PhD, focus on the causes and consequences of childhood and adolescent sporting injuries. These studies have spurred national policies on body checking, concussion prevention, and helmet laws. In Alberta specifically, Peewee hockey has eliminated body checking based on the results of these studies, and Emery and Hagel aim to slash sports and recreational injuries in youth by 20 per cent by 2020.

 Walkability of cities

Walkability of cities for better health

Obesity in Canada and around the world is on the rise, and many researchers are looking beyond traditional, and often individual-focused, interventions for improving adult weight status. Institute researcher Gavin McCormack, PhD, recently published a review of scientific literature suggesting that the more often adults drive in motor vehicles, the more likely they are to be overweight and obese. This important knowledge is being shared with policy makers and transportation and urban planners to consider in city and neighbourhood planning.

 Equalizing access to vaccinations

Equalizing access to disease-preventing vaccinations

Vaccines have been used as a measure of protection for our communities to reduce the outbreak of a number of infectious diseases. However, certain populations are at greater risk because they lack access to vaccines. Institute members Juliet Guichon, PhD, and Drs. Richard Musto, Harold Lau, Ian Mitchell and Lorraine Shack have used the results of their research to influence public health decision-making relating to human papillomavirus (HPV) and other disease vaccinations. Their efforts have resulted in increased vaccination use across Canada, with particular benefit to vulnerable populations.

 Designing better hospitals

Designing better hospitals to increase quality of care

Building a new hospital presents an opportunity to improve patient safety and care. As the province of Alberta began building Calgary’s South Health Campus in 2008, Alberta Health Services and the O’Brien Institute for Public Health’s W21C (Ward of the 21st Century) teamed up to ensure evidence-based design was built into the facility. Led by Jeff Caird, PhD, of the W21C, four spaces at the new hospital were evaluated — an outpatient room, emergency department exam room, acute care space and intensive care room. This research led to design and usability changes that affected over 900 rooms, resulting in an estimated $1.7 million in cost savings during construction.

 Unnecessary medical tests

Unnecessary medical tests

Lower back MRIs are among the most frequently requested scans in the health system, costing about $1,000 per scan. Thousands are performed each year, and the average wait for one in Calgary and Edmonton is seven months. O’Brien Institute member Dr. Tom Feasby led an investigation on necessity of MRI testing procedures, finding more than half of the requested MRI scans for lower back pain may be unnecessary. This research has led to specific health system improvements, including better patient selection and the avoidance of unnecessary testing — meaning people who need the test now have faster access to the care they need.

 Safe discharge of patients

Sending patients home from hospital with safe, secure information

Health providers write a lot of information about a patient while they are in the hospital — diagnosis, medications, care recommendations — important data that a patient’s regular doctor needs in order to continue their care. Without that “continuity of care,” patients can take the wrong medication, be re-admitted to hospital, or suffer other serious health problems. Researchers in the W21C Program have developed the Electronic Transfer of Care tool — a secure, web-based application to enable community healthcare providers access to a patient’s critical information after discharge from the hospital. This tool has now been installed in all adult acute care facilities in Calgary with plans to expand across the province.

 Affordability of drugs

Affordability of drugs

Drug prices in Canada have been rising steadily for decades with no signs of slowing down. Institute members Dr. Braden Manns and Fiona Clement, PhD, are working on the implementation of provincial and national strategies to find solutions to this problem, such as bulk buying and generic substitutes. These strategies aim to boost sustainability and reduce future cost to all of us — both as individuals and at the health system level.


About the work of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health

The work of the institute touches the lives of Canadians every day and focuses on two main areas — improving health-care systems, and preventing chronic disease. Researchers work on projects such as injury prevention in sport, national food and vaccine policies, government decisions affecting drug prices, and developing tools to care for patients from hospitals to community health providers.

The Institute for Public Health was launched in 2010 and has attracted more than 450 members dedicated to improving public health policy and practice. It is a unique collection of expertise from a variety of academic and professional backgrounds — from research scientists and clinicians to health system decision-makers and other health-care professionals. The O’Brien Institute is interdisciplinary and includes members from the Cumming School of Medicine and faculties of Nursing, Social Work, Arts, Business, Education, Veterinary Medicine, Kinesiology, Environmental Design, in addition to Alberta Health Services and the City of Calgary.