The Decker School of Nursing has been awarded almost $1 million in federal funds to expand its community-based nurse practitioner and nurse educator program and to develop Web-based courses on community health and biohazard emergencies.
Gale Spencer, professor of nursing and director of both the Kresge Center for Nursing Research and the Community Health Project, said the three-year grant will educate 24 community nurse practitioners or community nurse educators and will develop 20 new clinical sites in underserved or rural areas.
Spencer and Masha Britten, associate professor of nursing, prepared the proposal for the $989,843 grant from the Public Health Service. They have been notified that their score is “well within the fundable range” and have submitted final documents for official approval. Start date on the grant is July 1.
Spencer said development of two Internet-based biohazard courses was added to the grant application in response to the events of September 11. The courses will be developed using the expertise of Laura Terriquez-Kasey, a Decker clinical instructor and former U.S. Army nurse who is a member of the federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team. Terriquez-Kasey’s team spent time at Ground Zero following the terrorist attacks working as part of a medical triage, acute care team. The courses will also draw on the expertise of Robert McDermott of United Health Services and will focus on two related concepts involving biohazards. One will focus on how medical personnel should respond to individuals who have been exposed to a wide range of hazards ranging from biological agents such as anthrax to those toxins released in chemical spills, etc. The second course will focus on a public health approach in responding to these issues. While both courses are designed for Decker students, their subject matter and their distance-learning format will encourage a wide variety of other participants such as environmental engineers, public health nurses, county health departments and others involved in disaster planning.
Students will be asked to develop a protocol for responding to biohazard emergencies as part of the course. “Health departments and community agencies will have protocols in place if something happens,” Spencer said.
One of the hopes, Spencer said, is that some of those who participate in Decker courses via the Internet will decide to pursue their degree through the school. Spencer also sees the Internet learning component as opening new doors at Decker. “I hope that in the future we will do more in distributed learning in the community health program,” and sees distance learning as an increasing larger part of the kinds of courses the school will offer in the future. A part-time technical person will be hired under the grant to assist Decker in putting on the Web-based courses.
Another aspect of the grant focuses on the preparation of community health nursing educators. The grant will allow the Decker school to expand its educator role from a three-course to a four-course sequence. The fourth course will focus on using technology as a teaching tool. This piece of the grant was added to addresses the issue of a rapidly aging population of community nursing educators.
“The median age of nursing faculty is 54,” Spencer observes. The course sequence will allow master’s level community health nurses to prepare for college-level careers as community health educators by attending part-time to complete the program in one calendar year. Master’s level nurses in other specialties will be able to obtain a community health educator advanced certificate in one year by attending the program full time.
Looking to the future, the grant also attempts to meet the demand for nursing personnel, the program seeks to interest teens in nursing career via the Decker School’s TeenNet website. Teens in the program will also have an opportunity to shadow adult students and faculty in the community nursing program.
For many communities the grant may lead to a major expansion of health care services. If the previous Community Health Nursing program grant is any indication, this new grant has some great potential, Spencer noted.
The school is concluding the third year of a $699,210 grant that was critical in meeting the health care needs of several rural communities. Nurse practitioner students in the program are required to seek out a rural or underserved area, perform a needs assessment, and then devise a plan to correct deficiencies that have been discovered. Part of the plan calls for the students to work with the communities in getting grants or other funding to bring their ideas to fruition.
Previously, Decker nurse practitioners have worked with non-profit groups such as the YWCA, SOS Shelter, the Southern Tier Aids Program, and the Imaginarium. In addition, nurse practitioner students have been working with several primary care practices in the region. In the rural areas the projects have had some long-lasting effects. In Tioga County, for instance, one project involved improving education for those suffering with diabetes. Spencer notes that many of those with diabetes were elderly and had to travel great distances to learn how to care for their diabetes. To solve the issue, the students began a health education program at meal sites for the elderly. They also set up a course that could be offered by Tioga County personnel on a continuing basis after they left.
In the village of Towanda, in Bradford County, Penn., another project found childhood obesity to be a major problem. In response the students developed a nutrition education curriculum that would begin in elementary school and continue through high school, and could be worked into regular curriculum. For math classes, for instance, the curriculum would devise problems dealing with calories or food weights that would both bring awareness of nutrition issues as well as math. In Greene, a student working with a previous graduate of the program helped devise a community health fair as part of the opening of a nurse practitioner’s practice in the village. The health fair included a wide range of health screenings for participants, as well as distribution of information about health-promoting activities.
In a more urban setting, Spencer said one student worked with Lourdes Hospital’s home health care program to develop a cultural competency program so that home health care workers would understand the cultural backgrounds of the populations with which they work. In addition to graduating new nurse practitioners and nurse educators, “The whole idea is to serve Broome County and the surrounding region while teaching graduate students how to do a community needs assessment, and then develop and implement projects that meet community needs,” said Spencer.