Busy healthcare office with socially distanced workers and patients
HealthNovember 09, 2020

Public health nursing shining in primetime

By: Jennifer Hunter, MSN, RN
We are all experiencing challenging times right now with the development of the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping over the globe.

Our lives have been turned upside down in every aspect imaginable from becoming online instructors helping our children learn remotely, wearing a facial covering or mask everywhere we go in public (some trying very hard to be stylish with the new accessory), and trying to measure out a six-foot distance between friends who we are meeting at a local outside restaurant just to get some socialization. We are even dealing with skin irritations, hand rashes and dry skin from all the hand washing we are doing at every turn. We have a long list of complaints that are overwhelming us!

Now picture yourself being homeless with nowhere to put your head down at night, maybe even couch surfing among friends and family. You only have five dollars in change you found on the street to get your next meal. The Nurse Advocacy Center for the Underserved (NACU), where you go to get free nursing and social care provided by public health nurses and nursing students, is closed because the church it is housed in has prohibited groups congregating to prevent spread of the virus. The church usually provides a hot meal twice a week and a chance to see the public health nurse for any concern. You receive personal care items such as socks and toilet paper when you go weekly to get your blood pressure checks that helps so you do not have to beg for them. You have also developed a cough, feel “hot” and aching in your muscles and joints. Could this be Covid-19 and how am I going to get help for this if it is?

This is a real scenario playing out in my community of Northern Kentucky. I am a Nursing Professor at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and am the Director of the Nurse Advocacy Center for the Underserved (NACU). This is a university/community collaboration, non-profit, program that provides free nursing and social services to the underserved population. The mission of NACU is to improve the health of the underserved in the Northern Kentucky region by reducing health disparities.

Goals of NACU

  • Collaborate with other academic centers and community agencies to identify health needs and resources for the underserved.
  • Increase access and decrease barriers to healthcare for the underserved.
  • Provide culturally appropriate primary, secondary, and tertiary interventions through nursing care delivered directly to underserved populations in their communities.
  • Advocate for culturally appropriate health care for the underserved.
  • Engage nursing students in the provision of culturally appropriate health care to the underserved.
  • Continually assess trends and changes in other populations and adapt services as needed.

NACU clinic is run by public health nurses using a model that brings the care into the neighborhoods of the underserved. We bring the care to them, in their environments, so access to healthcare is easier, more affordable and can help them with the social issues that are bringing them down. NACU provides essential health care to local individuals who cannot afford or access mainstream avenues of medical care. Delivering vital care through the clinic sites in northern Kentucky, NACU seeks to diminish a substantial disparity in health between those with ample resources and those without. The program is led by deeply committed NKU nursing faculty and community partners. Compassionate, respectful care is the core of service provision whether inpatient care by registered nurses and nurse practitioners providing health exams, blood pressure and glucose screening or by providing educational programs on health issues to high-risk populations.

Our public health nurses have been busy linking the underserved to appropriate healthcare services, providing free Covid-19 screening and referral for treatment, and providing enormous amounts of education on prevention measures for this pandemic. We even hand out masks that have been donated by local businesses and other social groups, to help the underserved stay healthy. Any need the underserve have, the public health nurses will go to the ends of the earth to find a solution. Since the center is not permitted to provide a hot meal, we set up a table in the church parking lot to hand out packed meals in brown bags so those needing food will get something.

NACU nurses are taking this pandemic as a head-on challenge to provide education, screening, referral and compassion for those that have needs beyond our comprehension. All while having nursing students learn the importance of caring for the underserved and their complex social issues. The students are seeing firsthand what this pandemic is doing to those that had minimal support and resources to start with. It is a great lesson for them and will make them better nurses in the future. They are studying public health nursing in didactic and clinical format this semester and wanted to be involved with collecting resources to help the underserved. The NKU Student Nurses Association was involved with a donation drive collecting personal care items to be given out during this hard time. These are lessons that you cannot cover in a lecture or learn through a case study. It has been a proud sight to see from a career public health nurse for almost three decades. It makes me proud!

If you would like to learn more about this academic-community program, please visit nku.edu/nacu.

Jennifer Hunter, MSN, RN
Lecturer, Community Health Clinical Partner, Community Health Clinical Faculty, and Director of the Nurse Advocacy Center for the Underserved (NACU), College of Health and Human Services, Northern Kentucky University
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