Schools of Nursing, Social Work Team Up to Help Kids in Upton/Druid Heights
In an elementary school classroom in the heart of a Baltimore housing project, a group of people recently engaged in a passionate discussion about issues affecting some of the city’s most vulnerable citizens. Faculty and students from the University’s schools of nursing and social work, who want to help improve life for Baltimore’s disadvantaged, were part of the dialogue, which centered on the Promise Heights project—a unique partnership of the University and faith-based and nonprofit organizations working to improve educational, physical, and developmental outcomes for children.
Promise Heights is designed to level the playing field for socioeconomically disadvantaged youth by developing and implementing a long-term strategic plan that incorporates evidence-based elements of nationally recognized best practice models. Its goal is to create a holistic, community-centered education continuum that serves children and families living in the Upton/Druid Heights community of West Baltimore.
“Promise Heights is a good avenue for working with this population,” says Pat McLaine, DrPH, MPH, RN, assistant professor at the School of Nursing and director of the School’s master’s specialty program in community/public health nursing. “I know what life is like for some of these kids. We want something better for them, but it’s not enough to want something better. We have to be a part of the work to get there.”
According to the Baltimore City Health Department, in 2011 nearly 50 percent of Upton/Druid Heights families lived in poverty and 63 percent of deaths there were avoidable with proper opportunities to be healthy (www.baltimorehealth.org/info/neighborhood2011/53%20Upton.pdf). In response to the dire issues facing Upton/Druid Hill residents—specifically asthma—School of Nursing faculty began working with residents of the 655 low-rise units of the McCulloh Homes housing project in September 2011. In September 2012, the School of Social Work joined nursing school students and staff in working with residents of the McCulloh Homes and families of children attending the historic Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School across the street. Also, University representatives have teamed up with the local residents’ council and parent-teacher organization to address various community issues.
Staff and students agree that disseminating information to the community is crucial to improving the lives of residents. School of Nursing students have gone door-to-door inquiring about residents who suffer from asthma and providing individual and group education focused on symptoms, triggers, proper medication, and treatment.
“We hope to improve asthma outcomes for the children,” says Kate Scott, MPH, RN, clinical instructor at the School of Nursing. “If their asthma is better controlled, then they will have fewer missed days from school, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations.”
During home visits, residents also are told about educational programs on health issues, emergency preparedness, and school attendance for children—chronic absence from school, defined as missing 20 or more days per year, is a problem in the community. A needs assessment is completed, and follow-up visits are conducted to provide resources, education, and support.
Representatives of the University help staff the health suite at Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School. The Breathmobile—a pediatric asthma and allergy clinic on wheels—visits the school monthly.
Parent involvement is critical to solving the problems of children and, ultimately, to the success of the Promise Heights program, says Scott. Promise Heights gives parents and children the tools to learn how to better manage their health problems and stay healthy.
“If we’re able to share information with the parents and bring about a level of awareness, it’s a win-win situation for everyone,” she says.
Most importantly, the nursing and social work students and faculty feel they’re making a difference in the community. They are assisting the community by helping its children develop the necessary skills to take care of themselves and live healthy and productive lives.