The European Commission is investing more than $8 million to adapt a volunteer health-care navigation program developed jointly by UBC Okanagan and the University of Alberta.
NavCARE, created to help older persons living with declining health age safely in their homes, launched in 2014 with researchers from UBC Okanagan’s School of Nursing and the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Nursing. The goal was to connect volunteers with older people living at home to help maintain their independence and support their quality of life needs.
After a three-year study that determined older persons living in rural communities with declining health can maintain better, healthier lives if they have the help of a trained volunteer, Dr. Barb Pesut, a UBCO Nursing Professor, and Dr. Wendy Duggleby with the UAlberta Faculty of Nursing launched NavCARE. It started small, in three rural communities in BC. But as Dr. Pesut explains, the need to help the aging population is urgent.
“Far too often, supportive care comes too late and many people are left struggling,” she says. “People living at home with declining health need support early—and volunteer navigators have enormous potential to provide this support and improve their quality of life.”
The program has grown significantly since its inception and in 2021 Health Canada awarded $2.2 million to expand NavCARE across the country.
“This expansion across Canada has been exciting, as we have seen diverse communities across Canada benefit from NavCARE” explains Dr. Duggleby.
Now, a group of European partners will use the NavCARE model to implement a similar program, called EU NAVIGATE, for older people with cancer.
“The concept of care navigation hardly exists in Europe,” explains Dr. Lieve Van den Block, lead researcher for EU NAVIGATE and Professor of Aging and Palliative Care at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB) and the VUB-University of Ghent End-of-Life Care Research Group. “This is a Canadian care intervention program that’s going to be adapted to the European Union health-care context. The goal is to see how it fits into the health-care systems in our countries and how older people with cancer can benefit from it, including those who usually lack access to health and social care services.”
Earlier this month, EU NAVIGATE began service in six countries: Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Poland and Portugal. Researchers will monitor and evaluate the implementation of a navigation intervention for seniors with cancer. The program will also examine the impact on the patients and their family caregivers and will run as an international, pragmatic randomized controlled trial.
The three main dissemination partners are the European Cancer Organization, the European Association of Palliative Care and Age Platform Europe. In total, there are 11 partner groups, including one in Canada with Drs. Pesut and Duggleby.
While volunteers are at the heart of NavCARE, Dr. Van den Block says the program will vary in each European country, with some using paid social workers or health-care professionals.
The program was developed in such a way so it could be adapted to different contexts, Dr. Pesut explains.
“What’s so positive about this project is that while the underlying principles of NavCARE stay the same, they are meant to be flexible and adjustable depending on the needs of each country,” she says. “That’s the piece we’re very excited about—seeing its potential within different health-care systems and seeing how various countries chose to use our model and make it work for their specific needs.”
The funding, the equivalent of six million euros, will cover the implementation of the program in the six countries including clinical work, research and a full evaluation. Dr. Van den Block says once navigation services are mapped in Europe, the program can grow to perhaps include all cancer patients, not just senior ones, and she sees the potential for continued growth for the many people living across Europe with chronic illness, including those with frailty or dementia.
“We have really tapped into all the different stakeholder group’s needs to create positive impacts in Europe for people living with cancer,” she adds. “This is a unique project. It is exciting to build on knowledge developed in Canada and translate it to improve care in Europe.”