Governor General’s gold medal 2022: Alaina Brocklesby studied bio-ethical implications of social isolation for seniors during pandemic

Alaina Brocklesby may not have set foot on campus for the entirety of her Master of Social Work studies, but that doesn’t mean she’s not familiar with the University of the Fraser Valley.

Brocklesby earned the top grade-point-average in a master’s degree program at UFV this year, earning a perfect 4.33 (A+) GPA, and will receive the Governor General’s Gold Medal at the June 15 convocation ceremony.

But her first experience with UFV started 20 years ago, when she stepped onto the field for the Cascade women’s soccer team and began studies for a Bachelor of Arts with a major in psychology along with a focus on human resources. She stayed, played, and studied for four years.

That degree led to a career with BC Legal Aid. She started as an admin assistant and worked her way up to case management, which involved helping people in need make their way through the legal system and liaising with lawyers.

“It was a good field for me because I enjoy policy and the law, and also advocating for people who are in a less-privileged position,” Brocklesby notes.

She took a break from the workforce to focus on her three children when the family moved to California for a career opportunity for her husband.

Looking to relaunch her career and continue to work in a field that aligned with her values and commitment to social justice, she decided to enroll in UFV’s Master of Social Work program.

“I liked the program because it allowed us to pursue our passions in areas related to social justice and apply them a broad field in ways that make meaningful contributions to our community.”

She had moved back to Canada and resettled in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, but since the MSW program is offered mostly remotely via online learning, that was not a barrier for her. She did come to campus for some prerequisites before moving to the Island.

Even when her MSW cohort returned to having some in-person meetings in Spring 2022, she gained permission to attend via Zoom because of living on the Island. That means she never met her classmates or professors during the two-year program. That doesn’t mean they did not form lasting bonds, however.

“I would not have achieved what I did without the support of my fellow students, especially those I worked with on group projects. I wouldn’t have succeeded without my learning community,” she notes.

Brocklesby certainly did succeed. She earned an A+ grade in every course for her Master of Social Work.

For her master’s research, she focused on the bioethical implications of the social isolation imposed on long-term care residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I focused on what we call the ‘other pandemic’, the social isolation experienced by so many older adults in long-term care and the impact on them,” she notes.

“People in long-term care experienced greater surveillance of their activities than the average citizen and did not have the autonomy to make the same choices about whether to follow public health restrictions and orders,” she says. “The bio-ethical issue here is that medical professionals promise to ‘do no harm’, but the restrictions caused harm. There is ageism inherent in policies that were developed for the protection or long-term-care residents.”

Brocklesby says society has to do more than provide iPads for long-term-care residents to communicate with their families during times when visitors were not permitted.

“We need to look critically at the model where older folks are housed away from the community at large and develop some better policies at the legislative level.”

Brocklesby’s master’s degree has already opened new career doors for her. She is working for Nomina Wellness, a mental health and addictions treatment centre, providing counselling services to a range of clients.

She is looking forward to meeting her fellow students in person as they gather at Convocation on June 15.

When she’s not working, she and her young family are enjoying the Vancouver Island lifestyle, including trail running, hiking, and mountain biking.

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