Calvin Students Aid The Underserved

October 20, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — A grant of $18,000 from Spectrum Health's Healthier Communities department allows Calvin College to continue a successful community health program in the Burton Heights neighborhood, and to expand it into other underserved neighborhoods.

Begun initially with a three-year, $399,000 grant from the Office of University Partnerships of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Community Health Worker Program was a research-based initiative that placed Calvin nursing students not just in the Heights neighborhood, but in residents' homes as well.

A neighborhood survey was conducted to help identify major health concerns. The residents and local caregivers were then polled as to how they thought those issues could be addressed.

"When we presented the results back to the residents it really showed that access to care was the neighborhood's greatest concern," Calvin community partnership coordinator Gail Zandee said.

"They thought it would be wonderful if we could work within the neighborhood to train people — residents that live right on the block — in the area of access to care, and then go door-to-door and talk to people about it as opposed to sitting in the clinic and waiting for people to come to you."

In partnership with Health Intervention Services and Cherry Street Health Services' Burton Clinic, Calvin began a pilot program that recruited and employed five residents to work with nursing students to go into Burton Heights homes and address the concerns of each resident.

Careful to first and foremost make sure each individual had a primary care provider, the three-person teams also addressed any of the residents' individual questions.

General education was often conducted in the home, and referrals to nearby clinics were common.

"We usually try not to be a primary care provider right there in the home," Zandee said. "If there are education questions, we definitely provide them the education.

"But if they need to be seen, we try to make sure they get to their provider," Zandee said. "And if they don't have one, we'll help them find a place to go. There are so many transients in that neighborhood that people move in and they don't have any idea what's available."

The pilot program was a success for all involved, according to Zandee. Neighborhood health concerns were addressed, and residents appreciated the personal contact and individual interest. The community health workers became neighborhood assets, and were compensated for their time and efforts.

The students earned not only clinical practice, but also received real-world experience that a classroom curriculum could not offer.

"They are actually participating in research," Zandee said. "We teach a lot about research in theory, but they don't always get the opportunity to participate in the clinical experience of it."

The program allowed students to see the fundamentals of evidence-based practice — how the activities they are doing in neighborhood comes from a research base.

"They also get to know they are doing something that wouldn't be done if they weren't there," Zandee added.

"They're contributing to the health education of the community, and they know that it is going to have a lasting impact. It's not just education by community investment."

Calvin already has nursing students attached to many neighborhood-based clinics throughout the school year.

These students perform tasks more commonly associated with the nursing profession such as blood pressure screening and asthma education.

Zandee explained that the desire to expose more students to the Community Health Worker Program prompted the grant submission to Spectrum this summer. With its approval, Calvin will now expand the program into the Creston and Baxter-Madison neighborhoods.

The college has a long-standing relationship with the Creston Neighborhood Association, with students already working through Catherine's Care Center. This was actually the first neighborhood to form a partnership with the Calvin nursing department.

With Creston a given, a third neighborhood was needed to accommodate the number of interested students.

The program required a clinic to be present in the neighborhood to accommodate referrals, eliminating many interested communities. Baxter was the remaining neighborhood most excited about the opportunity, which prompted Calvin to place the program there.

The most prevalent concern in all three neighborhoods has been access to care. Other issues, like diabetes, also are common, but some unique differences in secondary concerns between the three communities could provide nursing students wider educational opportunities.

For example, sexually transmitted disease has been named as a major concern in Baxter, but not in Creston or Burton Heights. And unlike the other two communities, Burton Heights has listed depression as a large problem.

"These are all issues that students benefit from knowing a lot about," Zandee said.

The program will begin in the new neighborhoods in the upcoming winter semester.

While Zandee doubts that Calvin's nursing department is large enough to accommodate any additional neighborhoods, her hope is that its initiatives will expand through other universities and colleges.

The HUD grant not only created the Community Health Worker Program, but also the Calvin Burton Heights partnership that brought together Calvin and the Garfield Development Corp., the Garfield Park Neighborhoods Association, the Burton Heights Business Association, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Neighborhood Business Specialists Program, Buchanan Elementary School, and the Burton Health Clinic and Health Prevention Services.

According to Calvin's director of community relations, Carol Rienstra, the idea for the partnership was born of a request by the Garfield Development Corp. for a stronger commitment in that neighborhood.

"We have students, staff and faculty involved all over Grand Rapids," Rienstra said in a statement. "But (through the partnership) we were challenged to be more focused and to get to know a particular neighborhood's agencies and people at a deeper level."

The partnership concentrated on addressing health, education, community organization and housing and business district development.

The initial grant expired in September, but new funding has allowed many programs to continue. Besides the Spectrum Health grant, a $179,000 Teacher Quality Grant from the Michigan Department of Education has kept Calvin involved with Buchanan School and Potter's House Christian School.

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