Keeping Research Moving During a Pandemic

Keeping Research Moving During a Pandemic

Dr. Susan Loeb, PhD, RN, FGSA, FAAN, from the Pennsylvania State University Ross and Carol Nese College of Nursing – and an active Klein Buendel research collaborator – reflected on her research team’s experience in keeping research productive during the COVID-19 pandemic at the 17th Annual Custody & Caring Conference, November 4-5, 2021. The virtual conference was sponsored by the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. 

The cessation of face-to-face human subjects research by Universities and Departments of Corrections due to the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged researchers to seek alternative approaches for moving their work forward, albeit often not as originally conceived. Dr. Loeb’s presentation, and an accompanying award-winning poster led by Dr. Erin Kitt-Lewis from the Penn State Ross and Carol Nese College of Nursing, reported experiences from the Inmates Care Project,an STTR grant awarded to Klein Buendel by the National Institute on Aging (AG057239; Dr. Susan Loeb and Dr. Barbara Walkosz, Multiple Principal Investigators).

The Inmates Care study served as an exemplar to demonstrate strategies and adaptions employed to forge ahead in modified yet meaningful ways despite a protracted public health emergency. Inmates Care focuses on the research and development of computer-based training to prepare incarcerated persons to assist corrections staff in caring for people who have grown old behind bars and are approaching the end of their lives in prison. Identification of barriers and facilitators, re-envisioning how the team would restructure their day-to-day work, and preparing for the future were a few of the essential steps that were described.  

Key Lessons Learned

  • Seizing the opportunity to make investments in team member development;
  • Writing protocols that detail both in-person and virtual options for data collection to allow the team to pivot quickly when the next challenge arises; and
  • Reaching out to brainstorm with funding agency program officers, Institutional Review Board analysts, advisory board members, and other researchers beyond the team.

Such initiatives can result in scientifically sound, safe, and pragmatic solutions to keep research productive despite public health challenges. Taken together, these approaches can maintain study progress and scientific integrity, as well as identify alternate ways to achieve study aims in a timeline necessarily relaxed, but as close as possible to the original plan.

Co-authors on the presentation and 1st Place poster included Dr. Erin Kitt-Lewis, Sherif Olanrewaju, and Leigh Casey from Penn State University; Dr. Valerie Myers formerly from Klein Buendel; Jeannyfer Reither and Savanna Olivas from Klein Buendel; and Katherine Aiken from the Penn State College of Health and Human Development.

In addition to the paper and poster presentation, Dr. Loeb was also an invited panelist on a Closing Keynote titled, “Reflections on Forensic Mental Health and Correctional Nursing.”

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