Federal Grant makes lives healthier

A federal grant from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau is helping make the lives of Southeast Arkansas families healthier as the University of Central Arkansas connects these families with healthcares services that many in the region have never had before.

?The purpose of the grant is to recruit and retain health care providers for rural areas in Arkansas. We chose the Southeast because it was an area of need. It is certainly an underserved area where we need health services,? Dr. Amy Gross McMillan, UCA?s campus coordinator for the grant, said.

The grant provides services from physical therapists, nutritionists, nurses, and speech pathologists to residents of southeast Arkansas. Physical therapy students from UCA?s College of Health and Applied Sciences will be working on the grant with support from a developmental pediatrician as well as students and faculty at several other state universities.

The UCA students who are participating in the project are required to take the Interdisciplinary Training and Interagency Collaboration in Delivering Family-Centered Health Care class. The course is designed to provide students with opportunities to develop behavioral competencies for leadership and research in delivering family-centered health care.

“On some Fridays we meet in Little Rock and see a child with a disability and their family,” said Holly Hardy, a UCA physical therapy student. “We go through and ask questions about their history, their current problems, their long term goals etc.”

Hardy and other students use that data to provide infomation on health care services. “We have presented families with information on insurance and medicaid/medicare, nutrition, physical therapy, hobbies available, and address psychosocial issues, to name a few,” she said.

McMillan said, ?It?s a big commitment on the part of the students because they take a class on six Friday afternoons over the course of the semester. That class is done in a problem based learning format, which means that in between class times, students have work to do.?

The students must investigate learning issues outside of the scheduled class sessions as well as present information they have learned to their own small group and to larger group of students and faculty when needed.

In addition to meeting for these classes, the students meet with other grant participants from Little Rock and drive down to clinics in southeast Arkansas two times a month. Students are also involved with health care screenings as well as public awareness and education efforts.

?If we do an evaluation clinic, there?s some sort of developmental or health or medical need that brings a child to us. They might have motor issues or problems talking,? McMillan said. ?There?s a lot of interdisciplinary training and involvement that goes into these.?

McMillan says that the people who come to the free clinics are typically families from low-income settings and may not have the best parenting skills. ?In the clinics, the students learn about parenting and all different aspects of dealing with families,? she said.

During the school year, the people who work on the grant are not providing these health services on a weekly basis. ?We go down there and do some team examinations that wouldn?t be available unless they went to Children?s Hospital. We?re there for the training of our students and provide a monthly service that they would have had to drive to Little Rock to receive before,? McMillan said.

?Another thing they?re teaching the kids by being there and being role models is the meaning of physical therapy and speech language pathology. They?re showing them the health care professions and what it is that each of us does, because each of us has a little different focus. They are showing the kids the possibilities for career choices and that these things are possible,? McMillan said.

The grant also allows for a few students to spend a summer learning at the clinics in southeast Arkansas. McMillan said, ?We?ll recruit two entry Doctor of Physical Therapy students for the summer involvement. Typically, we select students who are accepted into physical therapy school but have not yet started the program. Right now there are three doctoral students in the program who are on the southeast Arkansas training grant. We do health screenings down there, and they live with a family. The community welcomes them with open arms, and the hospital typically has a large community dinner for them. The physical therapy providers in the area have been known to take the students out to lunch and to show them that they are wanted down there.?

?We try to recruit students from southeast Arkansas to be on that grant. They already know the benefits of small town living. There are only so many jobs in central and northeast Arkansas. Everybody else is usually going to end up working in rural areas,? McMillan said.

As an outcome of the clinics, McMillan said, ?We certainly see families becoming healthier and making different healthcare choices, getting connected with healthcare that might not have happened before.?

Jessica Saylor