Professor John Hirdes (School of Public Health Sciences) is one of five University of Waterloo researchers to be named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) for their exceptional contributions in Arts, Social Sciences and Sciences.

Hirdes (PhD ‘89) is the senior Canadian interRAI fellow and has served on the interRAI board of directors since 1997. He is also a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences and of the Balsillie School of International Affairs. An interdisciplinarian, Hirdes is recognized for being a consistent leader in the fields of aging, mental health and health information systems.

Recalling his work as a PhD student, Hirdes reflects on some of his early research as he worked alongside William F. Forbes, the founder of gerontology at Waterloo, on the Ontario Longitudinal Study of Aging and changes in health over time.

“He then connected me with Freeport Hospital in Kitchener, where I became increasingly interested to understand these complex populations and how we could better their lives.”

Hirdes’ contributions over the last 35 years focus on the care of society’s most vulnerable populations and have made a significant impact in improving the health and health care of Canadians. Through interRAI, Hirdes and his research team developed a clinical assessment system for those who receive services in hospitals, psychiatry, nursing homes, palliative care and home care.

“The clinical assessment system has become the basis for identifying vulnerable peoples’ needs and tracking outcomes over time," Hirdes said.

This assessment system is now a standard in nearly every Canadian province and territory. In addition, care planning protocols and instruments developed by Hirdes and his colleagues are being used in more than 30 countries.

“I regard this recognition as a team effort,” says Hirdes on being named to the RSC. “This achievement has only been possible through collaboration with international colleagues, staff and students at UW, stakeholders, government and advocacy groups.”

Examples of his team’s collective impact on Canadian health care includes a declined use in restraints, policy change in Ontario’s limits on home care services, lowered rates of premature admissions to Ontario nursing homes and a decrease in the inappropriate use of antipsychotics in nursing homes.

“Together, we’ve touched the lives of six million Canadians,” adds Hirdes. “The reach of what this research has done is significant and makes a difference in the quality of care that people receive.”

Going forward, plans to expand his research include enhancing home care assessments to identify climate-related disasters – such as flooding, air quality problems and fires – for those who are at higher risk. Hirdes also looks to broaden his work in community-based mental health services and to continue collecting data on primary care in aging peoples in lower- and middle-income countries.

Previous RSC Fellows in the Faculty of Health include professor emeritus Richard Hughson (Kinesiology and Health Sciences) and professor emerita Susan Horton (School of Public Health Sciences).