August 24, 2001

VUSN helping medically underserved communities

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Amy West, left, the medical assistant at Parthenon Towers, and Andi Honeycutt, FNP, talk with patient Robert Curtis during a regular checkup in the Parthenon Towers newly-opened clinic. (photo by Dana Johnson)

VUSN helping medically underserved communities

The Vanderbilt University School of Nursing has been awarded nearly $1.2 million to expand its nursing faculty practice to improve access to health care for medically underserved communities.

The five-year grant was funded by the division of Nursing within the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The enhanced services allows for the expansion of the following:

•Primary care in the public housing development clinics at Parthenon Towers, Hadley Park Towers and Madison Towers to serve low income, frail and elderly and/or disabled persons.

•Community mental health services for minority/economically disadvantaged persons through the Vine Hill Clinic.

•School health primary care for impoverished children and their families at Park Avenue School.

•Prenatal care to an immigrant Hispanic community.

•Primary care and mental health services to victims of domestic violence at the YWCA Domestic Violence Shelter.

“Each expansion of services leverages longstanding community partnerships between the School of Nursing and community agencies,” said Bonnie Pilon, senior associate dean for Practice at VUSN.

“Each clinic site targets populations known to be at risk for health disparities. Our main premise was to expand our existing nursing faculty practice network, which is multi-faceted.

“We have one of the oldest networks through our Vine Hill Clinic. This is not just an expansion, but a systematic expansion of our network over the next five years.”

Vine Hill, established in 1991, is the cornerstone of the Nursing School’s independent, nurse-run practice. The additional services are a “natural extension of current clinic operations,” Pilon said.

Presently, the school operates faculty practices at Vine Hill; offers school-based clinics at Fall-Hamilton Elementary in South Nashville and Stratton Elementary School in East Nashville; and manages a part-time clinic serving the residents at the YWCA Domestic Violence Shelter. Now with increased funding, these programs will see an increase in the faculty hours to help meet the growing needs.

Pilon said partnerships with Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA), Metro Schools and the YWCA have added to the success of the Nursing School’s appeal to the populations it serves.

“We could not have done it without their support,” she said. “It is a mark of the communities’ faith in what we are doing, what we stand for. We have been a part of these communities for 10 years. We are always looking at ways to continue to reach populations in need. We are building on the foundations that have already been laid.

“In terms of community support and our relationship with the community agencies, we enjoy a very favorable reputation. We have made a point of becoming a part of a community. We have made a commitment.”

Pilon predicts that through the expansion of on-site health care services at MDHA housing developments, the clinic will log an estimated 1,434 clinic visits at Parthenon Clinic alone. Parthenon is the first of these new clinics to open. It began operating in July. Although mental health services have been an integral part of the Vine Hill Clinic, demand has led to long delays in care. Under the expansion plan, 40-50 additional clients can be served monthly. Increasing the operating hours of school-based clinics as well as adding another site will net an estimated 2,558 more visits.

As a result of joint planning with Metro General Hospital and other agencies, prenatal care through the use of nurse-midwives will serve a growing Hispanic community. The grant focuses on coordinated planning efforts in the first year, prior to any new services, while the domestic violence shelter’s move from a pilot project to a permanent arrangement will serve an estimated 59 resident women and children per month at the part-time clinic site.

This project will also allow the School to focus on two issues over the next five years – health services research and clinical information system implementation.

“There is a huge natural lab in these nurse-run clinics,” Pilon said. “We can improve our knowledge about what works in nurse-managed centers. We need to do health services research.”

Pilon said by expanding the access of health care to vulnerable populations, nursing faculty and students could do more in-depth work focusing on specific problems affecting certain groups. This, according to Pilon, allows for an environment that integrates research and practice.

Also, the school hopes to develop a clinical information system to promote quality and efficiency.

“Right now we have several sites with no way to tie all the information together,” Pilon said. “There is no way to exchange patient information electronically because all of the information is documented on paper. Our network is growing and we need an infrastructure to support it.”