DECATUR — Health leaders in Decatur know where the community’s problems lie and they have ideas for solutions.
But getting those ideas to ears that need them has proven more difficult.
Recently Crossing Healthcare teamed with Millikin University students for help spreading the message. Students from Millikin’s School of Nursing and its Communication Department collaborated with Crossing employees to come up with campaigns for six of Decatur’s biggest health problems — opioid dependency, childhood obesity, overall obesity, diabetes, sexually transmitted infection rates and cervical cancer.
The goals of the campaigns were to improve health behaviors, health literacy and health outcomes for Crossing’s enrolled population. Six design teams were formed, with each team including students from the communication department, senior nursing students and a Crossing professional.
Each team pitched their campaign to Crossing CEO Tanya Andricks on Dec. 5.
“It was a great experience,” senior nursing student Camille Semanic of Frankfort said. “Being able to collaborate is important in nursing practice, so it was a learning experience for us. And it also benefitted the community by getting the word out about these services.”
Much of the nursing profession focuses on acute care. The project allowed the nursing students to get a closer look at the population health side of the industry.
“As nurses, we’ll have a patient that already has complications from diabetes and has maybe lost their leg,” nursing student Lindsay Sleade of Springfield said. “This has made us consider, ‘What could have been done before they had diabetes? What could have been done when they were a child to prevent them from becoming obese?'
“It’s primary prevention. It’s a different way to look at it — it helps us see the bigger picture.”
Megan Seyfert of Danville said the project gave her a better idea of how to lead patients to get the long-term help they need.
“It shows the importance of networking and knowing, as a healthcare worker, what’s out there,” Seyfert said. “I can point out programs out there that can help and keep them from having to come back to the hospital.”
Cassidy Kingery of Heyworth said understanding population health gives nurses an insight into individual patients they may not otherwise get.
“I think looking at it can help prevent any bias a health care provider might have,” Kingery said. “You see the same patient coming in week after week, and they gripe and complain. But if they don’t have the resources to fulfill their health needs, what are they supposed to do? I feel like this experience gave us a better insight into how devastating some of the determinants of health can be. It opened my eyes.”
Associate Professor of Nursing Jo Carter said the goal of each design team was to “increase the connectedness between Crossing and the community they serve.”
“Our students gain experience, and for the professionals, they get the fresh perspective of the students, who aren’t grounded in the way things have always been,” Carter said. “They can look at a problem or an issue and bring a new attitude towards it, and that’s valuable.”
Most of the students agreed Crossing was doing a good job of getting the word out to those who need its services, already utilizing social media. But there were some areas that needed improvement.
“We took what they already had and gave them ideas to make it better,” Seyfert said. “They have a ton of programs and it’s important for them to get the word out there. It’s just a matter of how sometimes.”
While communication students learned what some of the health issues facing the community were from the nursing students, Katie Strompolis of Decatur said communication students taught her and the rest of the nursing students about motivational theories and modifying behaviors.
“We looked at the needs, seeing what was already being done, and identifying the gaps in those needs,” Strompolis said. “We looked at what didn’t work before, scrapping that and trying something new.”
Kingery said the professionals from Crossing were able to provide background on what had worked, what hadn’t and why. Millikin Assistant Professor of Communication Amy Delaney said that allowed the campaigns to be more effective.
“They worked well trying to capitalize on what was already offered,” Delaney said. “Instead of reinventing the wheel and starting over, they tried to build and improve what’s already out there.”
Semanic’s team put together a campaign to help new patients of Crossing’s medication-assisted addiction treatment stick with the program; Strompolis’ group recommended “fueling your plate” to parents to curb childhood obesity before it started; Kingery’s group encouraged being tested for STIs; Seyfert’s group highlighted Crossing’s Lose to Live program and offered other options; Sleade’s group focused on Type 2 diabetes prevention, particularly among young adults; and Josie Conway of Decatur’s group spread the word about HPV vaccinations in order to prevent cervical cancer.