By: Cassidy Delamarter, University Communications and Marketing
Through a first-of-its-kind partnership, the University of South Florida’s College of Nursing decreased weekly emergency medical service calls by nearly 85% at The Salvation Army’s Red Shield Center in Tampa.
On average, the center – housing 160 beds for homeless men and women – had about three calls to emergency medical services every day, most commonly for side effects related to not having access to their medication.
“Now it’s about two to three times a week,” USF Assistant Professor LaTiena Williams said. “I’ve been there since August and I've called EMS four times to date.”
Launched in January, the College of Nursing’s Red Shield Center Respite Care Program provides clients with an opportunity to prioritize their health, which has often been neglected for years. The program, led by Williams, offers free care coordination, health education, assessments and resources, such as transportation to doctor visits.
“Now clients come to me first and I am usually able to assist them without the need to call 911,” Williams said. “This program has taken a strain off of our county’s first responders and allows them to focus on serious emergencies.”
“The partnership between The Salvation Army and USF College of Nursing has been a game changer for our community,” Elle Kane, The Salvation Army social services director, said. “Our homeless population finally has a chance to receive medical attention with this partnership that will put them on the right path for better health outcomes leading to self-sufficiency and permanent housing.”
After completing a social needs assessment over the summer, Williams was able to identify gaps in the clients’ health care. Williams found many struggled to find transportation to doctor appointments and pharmacies, forcing some to go weeks without medication for chronic illnesses, such as diabetes.
“Access to health care is the biggest problem. Most of the clients have health insurance provided by the county, but what about access to it?” Williams said.
Williams established community partners, such as BayCare Community Health, to help provide clients with otherwise unfeasible or inaccessible routine and preventive care. Through mobile health units and on-site vaccine clinics, the program helps clients manage their health and prevent future health problems.
Throughout the week, Williams is on site to answer health-related questions, assist with transitions of care for those discharged from the hospital, create proactive care plans and address concerns. She typically sees about 30 clients each week, commonly with nutrition problems, high blood pressure and uncontrollable blood sugar. “The key is education. Without that, it is hard to move forward, so we have to teach first,” she said.
Each semester, Williams has a class of nine undergraduate nursing students who visit the Red Shield Center weekly as part of their service-learning project. The students educate the clients on various topics, such as diabetes, hypertension and the impact of stress. The project is mutually beneficial – students have an opportunity to engage with community members and in return, clients can learn about their health.
“It was eye opening to see some of the healthcare issues that our homeless population faces, especially on such a local level,” said Mary Zent, recent Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduate. “It helped bridge what we are learning with the real impact we can have in our community.”
Williams plans to expand the program by adding an on-call doctor from Tampa General Hospital in a couple of weeks and adding volunteers, including Zent, who was inspired to return post-graduation as a volunteer.
“Education is prevention,” Williams said. “Even if someone is a lawyer, it does not mean they are health literate. When we educate the public and community, that’s where a lot of diagnoses are found.”