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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

Aaron Cowan

Methodologist with a background in chemical engineering who’s passionate about research, statistics, and experimental reporting. As a volunteer with Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Canada and now as a troop leader with Scouts Canada, he’s seen firsthand the importance of diverse role models in guiding children towards becoming well-rounded adults. Through his work as a Methodologist at the Bridge, Aaron strives to shed light on the negative impacts of socioeconomic disparities on marginalized populations and help bring about positive change for neglected segments of society.

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.


“I have worked with aboriginal companies in the past including Odawa’s 510 Drop-In for homeless or at risk of homelessness and Metis National Council. I have experienced homelessness for several years from my late teens to early 20’s. I suffered from addiction for most of my life but was always reaching for something better. Through all my hardships, there have been people and places to help me, and I hope to be able to do that for people who need it most. In the future I plan to go back to school and further my education. My dream is to help people who are suffering with addiction learn that there is a better life out there for them, it is possible, and that they matter.”

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.

Randa Hasan

Randa works as Clinical Research Assistant at the Bridge. She is a Pharmacist with a Bachelor’s Degree in Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and a Diploma in Medical Laboratory Technology and has more than ten years of experience as a pharmacist and two years as a laboratory technician. After graduating, Randa established her own pharmacy in Syria but had to leave the country due to the war. She then worked as a pharmacist in Dubai before moving with her family to Canada. She is currently in the process of obtaining her pharmacy license in Canada. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and loves Canada’s natural beauty.

Maryam Rizvi

Maryam is a Clinical Research Coordinator at the Bridge. She has a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology with over five years of experience working in the area of mental health with marginalized communities in Pakistan. Maryam 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 well-being, health inequity, bullying prevention, abuse, and trauma. 

Natalia Szerszunowicz, MD

Natalia Szerszunowicz is a Clinical Research Coordinator (casual) at the Bridge and a Psychiatry Resident at the University of Toronto. She studied at Poznan University of Medical Sciences in 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

Preshit Ambade BAMS, MHA, DrPH

Dr. Preshit Ambade is a post-doctoral fellow at Augusta University, USA. Between 2019 and 2022 he was post-doctoral fellow in 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.

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, homeless shelters and supportive housing to implement interventions to increase access to smoking cessation services and smoke-free policies among homeless adults. Maya’s current work 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

“When you engage with people the magic happens!”

Dr. Anna Kuehne and Dr. Benjamin Wachtler visited the Bridge in September 2019 as a delegation from the Berlin Health Collective, two community health centers in Germany.

Dr. Anna Kuehne is an epidemiologist and public health professional.

Dr. Benjamin Wachtler works in Department of Epidemiology and Health Monitoring in Robert Koch Institute in Berlin.

These, who are dearly missed

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!

Kelly Florence

Kelly was a valued member of   the Bridge Community Advisory Committee (CAC) since its inception. He is a co-author on multiple papers and abstracts from the PROPMT project, for which Kelly was one of the main community peer researchers. Kelly was actively involved in many of the Bridge projects, from the study design and conception to implementation till knowledge sharing.

Kelly was an acclaimed artist. He loved sketching, painting, wood carving and much more. As a part of our peer-led ‘Life Skills Workshops Series’, Kelly conducted ‘Art with Kelly’ workshops and displayed his artistic professional side.