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The Bridge aims to improve the health and well-being of disadvantaged communities using a People First research approach. Our projects are guided by lived experience and meaningful partnerships with people and communities. 


The Bridge has built trust and engagement with Ottawa’s most marginalized communities, where trust is scarcely found. All of the Centre’s projects have strong Indigenous representation and are representative of racialized communities, and Ottawa-Vanier’s Francophone community.

One example of the Centre’s projects is the PROMPT project. PROMPT is a direct response to the alarming rate of smoking in Ottawa’s drug using community. PROMPT provided 80 people with free Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), Canadian Mental Health Association nurse counseling, peer support, and on-going life-skills workshops.

The majority of the people who participated in PROMPT not only reduced or quit tobacco use but also other substances such as fentanyl, heroin, and oxycontin. Over 30% improved their general socio-economic standing (new jobs, school enrollment, drug rehab enrollment etc.), and over 97% said they feel better, breathe better and eat better.


The community at the heart of The Bridge is Ottawa’s people who self-identify as homeless, at-risk for homelessness, low-income racialized including Indigenous people. Community (peer) researchers are involved in every stage of the centre’s work from project design to implementation and knowledge mobilization. The Centre’s patient/peer engagement model is making a difference in real people’s lives.

Our Team

Academic, office staff, and peer researchers

Dr. Smita Pakhale, MD, FRCPC, MSc

(Epidemiology & Biostat) – Principal Investigator

Dr. Smita Pakhale is a respirologist at the Ottawa Hospital. Being raised in India, a country known for its caste system, Dr. Pakhale from the beginning of her career has recognized the pressing issue of health inequity that affects not only her home country but also North America. Her need to address the root of social disparities led to the creation of the Bridge Engagement Centre. At the Bridge, she conducts research projects in true partnership with people who have lived experiences of poverty, homelessness, and being racialized, including Indigenous  Peoples. She is a compassionate visioner that leads everyone at the Bridge to personal and professional development. When she is not at the Bridge or with her patients you can find her in the kitchen making delicious daal as cooking is another research project for her.

Preshit Ambade BAMS, MHA, DrPH

Dr. Preshit Ambade is a post-doctoral fellow at Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Canada. He previously served as a “Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellow” from 2012-15 appointed by the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India to work in one of the country’s development deficit areas. His research interest includes health care financing, health insurance coverage in developing countries, health disparities, economic evaluations in health care, and improving health insurance coverage for ethnic and low-income groups.

Ted Bignell

Ted has been a part of the Bridge for more than 5 years. Initially, he was the participant of the PROMPT project, and then he continued working as a community peer researcher. He was actively engaged in all research related activities at the Bridge such as recruiting, consenting, administering surveys, and follow-ups. He is also a member of the Bridge Community Advisory Committee. He is co-Principal Investigator and co-Investigator of many of the Bridge research studies. Knowledge mobilization, activities such as leading community meetings, fundraising through Run for a Reason, and presentations at community and academic events are also Ted’s interests. One of Ted’s talents is cooking – his bannock is delicious!

Bruna C. Falavinha, M.Sc.

Bruna Falavinha is a Ph.D. student at University of Ottawa. Previously she completed her Master’s degree in Biosciences at FIOCRUZ. In Brazil, she was a coordinator at the nonprofit organization Techo, fighting extreme poverty in Latin America. Her research interests rely on social equity, public health, health inequities and Indigenous health.


Vanessa became a part of the Bridge during COVID Impact study in 2020. She is an extremely passionate person that puts a lot of her energy into helping others and fighting for human rights, especially for incarcerated people within CPEP (The Criminalization and Punishment Education Project). Vanessa is a spoken word poet, who writes poetry based on her lived experiences. She is a great communicator and her semi-structured interviews for our studies are exemplary. Moreover, Vanessa as a doula helps women during one of the most important moments in their lives – childbirth.

Meaghan Hegarty

Meaghan initially joined the Bridge as a youth researcher for TCAY Ottawa study focusing on Cannabis and Mental health but quickly she became involved in COVID Impact study. Meaghan is always innovative and full of ideas. She is one of two peer researchers who are leading Photovoice projects. Meaghan is very interested in helping others, she recently started her Collage as she plans to help marginalized populations by becoming a social worker.

Terrence Hegarty

Before Terry joined the Bridge he was already intensely involved in working for the community. From the beginning, he was actively engaged in recruiting, consenting, administering surveys, and follow-ups in HPI study. Terry is also a member of the Bridge Community Advisory Committee and co-Investigator of many of the Bridge research studies. He is committed to knowledge mobilization through presenting the results and impact of our studies at community and academic events. In his free time, he is continuously learning new things such as studying Irish Gaelic.

Asiya Hilowle

Asiya, who holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, joined the Bridge for COVID impact study. She excelled in participants’ recruitment, consenting, and administering surveys. Currently, she works as a Youth Community Peer Researcher in the Photovoice project, a part of TCAY Ottawa study. Asiya has many passions and is involved in running a NPO women and youth basketball program aimed towards Muslim and Black women in the community to foster healthy living. She’s also part of the Adventure Report Lending Gear Library that lends out free camping gear and organizes camping trips for new BIPOC campers.

Sadia Jama, M.Sc

Sadia Jama is a Doctoral Candidate in Epidemiology at the University of Ottawa. Her research areas are health inequities, tobacco health disparities, and the impact of cannabis use on mental health. She is passionate about health justice and has over 10 years of experience as an organizer on housing and food security issues, working alongside racialized and lower-income communities in Ottawa, Canada. Her research is funded by several grants including the CIHR Fredrick Banting and Charles Best Doctoral Award.

Michael “Max” Magwood

Max for a long time was a volunteer in various organizations focused on helping people who use drugs or experiencing homelessness. He joined the Bridge Team as a Participant during HPI study. His activism and curiosity led him to become community researcher. He laboriously participates in every stage of projects led at the Bridge. In his free time, he loves to take pictures of flowers and space. Moreover, he has an amazing knowledge of crystals.

Maryam Rizvi

Maryam Rizvi has a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology with over 5 years’ experience of working in the area of mental health with marginalized communities in Pakistan. She has also worked with children and youth with physical and mental health challenges. She is experienced in clinical counselling and therapy. Her research interests include social-emotional wellbeing, health inequity, bullying prevention and abuse and trauma. 

Natalia Szerszunowicz

Natalia Szerszunowicz is a Clinical Research Assistant at the Bridge. She studied at Poznan University of Medical Sciences in Poland. Previously she worked in Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Gniezno, Poland. Her main interests are mental health, neurodevelopmental disorders, substance use disorders, health inequity, and improving the feasibility of healthcare access. She enjoys spending time with her child, learning new languages, and exploring Canadian nature.

International Collaborators

Maya Vijayaraghavan, MD, MAS

Maya is a practicing general internist and a researcher in tobacco control with a focus on populations experiencing homelessness. Maya is formally trained in a variety of methodologies, including implementation sciences, descriptive epidemiology using national longitudinal and cross-sectional data, policy analysis, randomized controlled trials, qualitative and mixed methods research. Her intervention research stems from collaborations with community organizations. As principal investigator of two prior grants from the Tobacco Related Disease Research Program (TRDRP) , she collaborated with homeless shelters and supportive housing to implement interventions to increase access to smoking cessation services and smoke-free policies among homeless adults. Her current work, funded by the NCI, includes a cluster randomized controlled trial of a smoke-free home intervention in 20 permanent supportive housing sites in the San Francisco Bay Area. She have started recruiting participants for another randomized controlled trial of a contingency management smoking cessation intervention for people experiencing homelessness. Maya’s current work also involves delivery of system-level interventions for smoking cessation, integrated within the electronic health record of safety-net health systems.

白雪 Xue Bai

Bai Xue, an attending physician in the Department of respiratory and critical care medicine at the First Hospital of Lanzhou University, She graduated from Central South University with a master’s degree, and now she is a PhD student in Lanzhou University. Her main research direction is the mechanism of cardiovascular damage caused by obstructive sleep apnea. She studied for half a year at the University of Ottawa in Canada in 2018.

“This Bridge is not just a project, it’s a family. And when I was there, I felt relaxed and comfortable, all the members are fine, and when I help others, I feel happy from the heart.

Dr. Yunchun Zhou

Master, Associate Professor, Physician

Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, People’s Hospital of Yuxi City, Yunnan Province, China. Visited OHRI as a visiting scholar followed with Dr. Smita Pakhale from Nov. 1 in 2019 to June 1 in 2020.

I joined the Bridge and served as a volunteer peer every week when I stayed in Ottawa. It’s a memorable and meaningful experience to me. We got together, shared food, played games and spent a lot of holidays, including Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, Valentine’s Day and so on. Everyone is very friendly, kind and equal. It’s a very warm and peaceful community. We can share our experience on quit smoking and don’t worry about anything.

Dr. Li Yang

Respirologist, visiting scientist from China

Dr. Anna Kuehne MPH MSAE and Dr. Benjamin Wachtler from the Berlin Health Collective

“When you engage with people the magic happens!”

We are a small delegation from two community health centers in Germany and had the opportunity to visit “The Bridge” in Ottawa in September 2019. Our community health centres, the Poliklinik in Hamburg and the Berlin Health Collective, are very new and we were eager to learn about participatory research and collaboration with communities at eye level. We had the pleasure to meet with researchers and participants and speak about the opportunities that The Bridge offers to people who are homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless and use substances. We had time to speak about experiences in participatory research and collaborative work with communities and shared a lovely lunch. We were impressed by the collaborative and respectful style in which The Bridge was run. It was an inspiring visit for us, showing how research can be done on eye level with communities and how it can be combined with meaningful interventions for communities. During our visit, someone mentioned, “when you engage with communities, the magic happens” and this magic was truly palpable at The Bridge. We are glad that we are able to continue to learn from The Bridge as collaborators and friends.