With the addition of Dr. Angela Russolillo to Advancing Health, we are pleased to announce the launch of our newest research program: Psychiatry. The Program will bring together the broad range of scientific expertise, partnerships, and evidence-based care occurring under the umbrella of mental health at Providence Health Care (PHC). In doing so, the Program aims to become a central hub for PHC research related to psychiatry and mental health.
Dr. Russolillo, who will serve as Program Head for Psychiatry, is the Research lead for mental health at PHC where she spearheads the uptake of evidence into clinical practice as well as catalyzing new research projects throughout the department.
“When I started in this role last year, there was a lot of independent researchers throughout the department but there was no collective movement focused on research,” she said. “My role has been to help build a research infrastructure and develop priorities and areas of focus.”
The formalization of these efforts into a research program at Advancing Health is part of that evolution.
“Advancing Health provides a unique network of researchers who are working on related health topics,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to collaborate and build off of the experience of those who have had a lot of time in the research world, while still being connected to the clinical space.”
“My goal has been to spark the notion that research is a positive way to change treatment and care,” she added. But, says Dr. Russolillo, that requires some intention — research is hard to do off the side of your desk. She sees her role at PHC and Advancing Health as giving people the space to pursue ideas that spark change while not feeling overwhelmed by clinical workloads.
From frontline care to finding evidence
Dr. Russolillo began her career as a psychiatric nurse involved in front line care in a variety of settings, eventually working her way through advanced nursing practice into academia with an interest in substance use, homelessness, and health service use. She sees the role of the clinician–research as an important one for the health care system.
“A lot of the research we are interested in is how to improve care, reduce burden on the health care system, and affect policy,” she said. “Being embedded within the health care system as a clinician–researcher lends a different perspective to the outcomes and implications of your research, which can otherwise feel detached from what is happening at the bedside.”
Despite being a new addition to the list of Advancing Health Scientists, Dr. Russolillo is no stranger to the organization. She was part of a Knowledge Translation Challenge team mentored by Dr. Joseph Puyat to implement a clinical toolkit for the use of clozapine, and, most recently, collaborated with statistician Dr. Meijiao Guan on an ongoing project to examine the impact of COVID-19 on psychiatric hospitalizations and assess attitudes towards substance use in acute psychiatry settings.
Her current work is funded through the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Health Professional–Investigator Program, where the aim is to rethink the way we diagnose and treat complex, concurrent psychiatric and substance use disorders.
The project will develop a prospective cohort of individuals with concurrent disorders, where data will be collected longitudinally as well as through administrative data linkages.
“Ultimately, this project is trying to understand how the impact of multiple concurrent health concerns changes our interactions with the health care system, and where we can improve and redesign care practices,” she said. “Currently, the health care system is set up to understand single disease profiles and despite the evidence for integrated care, we haven’t developed a system to provide that type of care for people with multimorbidity.”
Promoting evidence-based mental health care
While it aims to grow and include other researchers and topics, the work of the Psychiatry Program is broadly grouped into three categories: (1) Providing guidance to mental health policy and clinical care and prevention; (2) Supporting research that addresses the needs of individuals of marginalized and underserved communities; and (3) Leveraging mobile and other emerging technologies to develop, test, and deliver interventions for mental health disorders.
Dr. Russolillo is also looking forward to developing new collaborations across the different departments at PHC and Advancing Health in order to improve research and better inform care.
“There is a lot of great research happening related to mental health at PHC and I am excited that Advancing Health can provide a platform to share that work with a wider audience,” she said.