Our Hospital, Our StoriesBehind the Scenes: Research Provides Valuable Insights Into Inner City Healthcare

Posted on: Nov 29, 2016

As the Royal Alexandra Hospital's Addiction Recovery and Community Health team continues to treat patients, behind the scenes, dedicated researchers are gathering data which is also a critical component to success.

Every day, the Addiction Recovery and Community Health Team at the Royal Alexandra Hospital is making a dramatic difference in the lives of patients living with addictions, homelessness, or experiencing other barriers to good health. As the team continues to treat patients, behind the scenes, dedicated researchers are gathering data which is also a critical component to success.

Elaine Hyshka is the Scientific Director for the Royal Alexandra Hospital’s Inner City Health and Wellness Program. The position is a collaborative effort between the ICHWP and the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta, where Hyshka is also an Assistant Professor in Health Policy and Management.

Hyshka’s research concentrates on inner city health, substance use, homelessness, and social determinants of health. It is slowly but surely attracting national and international attention.

“Every major city in Canada has an urban area that experiences higher rates of poverty and social problems, but there is a general lack of research on strategies for improving health in Canada’s inner cities,” explains Hyshka. “ICHWP is developing a robust program of health services research – looking at how to shape the healthcare system to improve standards of care for marginalized groups.”

Hyshka started her education in sociology, and then leaned towards health policy, in particular society’s “zero tolerance” attitudes towards substance use. “Evidence shows that overemphasis on enforcement and abstinence-only approaches can be quite counterproductive,” says Hyshka. “Not only are they counterproductive, but these approaches have real negative impacts on people and families. Addiction is a health issue, and I strongly feel that those patients need the highest quality of care. I felt that the way society stigmatizes and excludes people with addictions reflects a fundamental injustice, and wanted to dedicate my career to address the issue. Healthcare that focuses on patients and the social contexts of their addictions is what can really save lives.”

Elaine Hyshka, Scientific Director for the Royal Alexandra Hospital’s Inner City Health and Wellness Program

The ICHWP research mainly covers two areas: how the Royal Alexandra Hospital can best help inner city patients who are dealing with adverse conditions that affect their health, and how successful is ARCH in helping to solve those problems.

“We gather quantitative and qualitative research with our patients, asking questions like how useful was your interaction with the ARCH team? How can we improve?” says Hyshka. “We also want to know what kind of impact serving these patients has on Royal Alex staff. By asking these questions and analysing the results, we can strive to improve the program for both patients and healthcare staff.”

Hyshka stresses that the Royal Alexandra Hospital provides a perfect setting for both the ARCH team and her research. “We have a great opportunity, since the Royal Alex provides so much care to this marginalized population. Through the Inner City Health and Wellness Program, we are sharing important information with the other healthcare providers that we are partnered with.”

Although her academic responsibilities keep her very busy, Hyshka thrives in having one foot in the University and one foot in the Royal Alex. She enjoys working in an applied setting and feels that her work will directly inform what’s happening at the hospital and in the community.

“So far, all the evidence points to this program having a major impact on Edmonton’s inner city community,” says Hyshka with a smile. “I’m very proud to be a part of something that is so innovative, far-reaching, and compassionate. This program is definitely changing lives.”


The Royal Alexandra Hospital’s Inner City Health and Wellness Program (ICHWP) was created with the mindset that hospital-based care for Edmonton’s inner city population can no longer be limited to Emergency Room visits in times of need. Instead, the Addiction Recovery and Community Health Team (ARCH) provides integrated health surveillance, evidence-based preventive health activities, and social service interventions to help improve a patient’s social determinants of health. Instead of patients making multiple visits to the Emergency Department for acute care in times of crisis, through ARCH they are now receiving the health and social care they need to live healthier and happier lives.

Elaine Hyshka was recently acknowledged by Avenue Magazine, being named in their Top 40 Under 40 list for 2016.