EMU launches community health pilot project

Kate Clark, coordinator for the new community health services project, reviews protocols with (l. to r. around table): Reem Mohammed, Tina Beachy, Paloma Saucedo and Salime Almanzar. Photo by Lindsey Kolb

The scenario is commonplace. A young mother or couple, perhaps new to the area and not fluent in English, has what is perceived as an emergency health care situation with their child and either doesn’t know where to turn or shows up at the hospital emergency room. There, it is discerned that the “urgent” need really wasn’t a crisis.

This situation, repeated in towns and cities everywhere, may be addressed and eased locally through a community health worker pilot project being launched in June.

The nursing program at Eastern Mennonite University and the Harrisonburg Community Health Center (HCHC) have been awarded a $115,000 grant to train lay persons to be “front line workers” on the HCHC health services team. The funds from a private foundation were provided by Dr. Arthur (Tim) Garon, provost at the University of Virginia

Ann G. Hershberger, professor of nursing at EMU, set up the pilot training program in cooperation with HCHC officials.

According to Dr. Hershberger, EMU’s nursing department will manage the project, working in conjunction with HCHC in an eight-week training program for the four health care workers as well as a two-week field/clinic training program

Kate Cockley Clark, who has been hired as project coordinator, is a 2007 graduate of EMU with a BS in nursing and graduated May 21 from the University of Virginia with a MSN degree in public health nursing. She is also joining EMU’s nursing department faculty part time this fall, teaching community health and introductory undergraduate clinicals.

“The primary aim of this project is to assist local individuals and families who need some extra attention to navigate the health care system, and particularly ” Clark said. “We believe that EMU was approached to start this program because it fits with the university’s mission and service values.

“Experience with similar projects in other locales has shown this to be a cost-effective program,” she added.

Clark has led an eight-week training sessions at EMU using available curricula with the four community health workers. They will also complete a two-week field-clinic training session with HCHC. Clark will continue to supervise the workers and provide followup training when they begin working.

The community health care workers who are completing training are Paloma Saucedo, a native of Mexico who is fluent in English and Spanish; Salime Almanzar (Spanish/English) from the Dominican Republic; Reem Mohammed from Iraq (English/Arabic); and Tina Beachy (English/Kurdish).

Once the program is under way in June, the workers will proactively make calls and visits and respond to family calls. Their training enables them to follow protocols for about 25 different common health conditions as well as work with families to develop health plans and goals to promote and improve health.

The initial project will run one year, and funding is being sought to extend the life of the program.

“This program will not only improve the health of participating families, but will also promote health in the broader community,” Clark said. “By teaching healthy practices and lifestyles, the community health workers will not only affect the lives of the families they are directly working with, but also the friends, relatives and neighbors of those families.

“The collaborative nature between HCHC and EMU adds strength to the program,” Clark added. Both EMU and HCHC are well established and trusted organizations in the Harrisonburg community. In working together, they can more effectively meet their mutual goal of improving and promoting health for the local community.”

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