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VCU Health Hub: Serving a Community in Need

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Communities evolve over time. Some individuals experience booms in prosperity, while others face challenges such as shuttered storefronts and diminished resources. Both VCU and VCU Health received feedback from the locals in one particular Richmond area regarding the lack of services and programs required to address the needs that exist in their community. The result is development of the VCU Health Hub at 25th facility, located in the East End of the city.

“We chose this location because it is in a community that has historically had some challenges. When we look at the city of Richmond, and the demographics, what we know is that this is a community where four of the city’s public housing developments are located. It also includes census tracts that are considered food deserts,” states Sheryl Garland, chief of health impact for VCU Health.

The Health Hub is located adjacent to the city’s newest grocery store, the Market at 25th, as well as in the same development where Reynolds Community College will be opening a new Culinary Arts Program.

The Grave Impact of Social Determinants

Individuals who live in low-income communities face issues that impact their health outcomes, education, and overall health and well-being. Research has linked economic and social disadvantage with avoidable illness, disability, suffering and even premature death.

“The conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age – including access to health insurance and coverage – are considered social determinants,” explains Garland. “Examples might be whether somebody is employed, whether or not they live in poverty. Are they faced with food insecurities? Do they live in safe neighborhoods? Have access to transportation? Or, do they have health literacy issues, which are often driven by their level of education?”

Addressing Chronic Conditions

Through its County Health Rankings Model, the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute has demonstrated that 50 percent of the factors that influence health outcomes – or how well and how long people live – are related to social determinants and physical environment.

Through VCU’s research, using data from the local health department and census tracts, it discovered that many of the communities with the highest poverty rates also have the highest incidence of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

“One of the things we know is that addressing an individual’s condition in their community, in their home, has a huge impact on their overall well-being and their health outcomes. If the only interactions that our healthcare system and providers are having with individuals is when they are in our clinical environments – when they are in our hospitals, in our emergency departments – then we are missing a huge component of what it is that may be driving the conditions individuals are faced with,” says Garland.

Collaboration Expands Care Opportunities

The Health Hub facility is furnished with consultation spaces, where there is an opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with community members and their family members. It also includes educational spaces, which allow different groups to come together and work on addressing health issues, provide fitness activities, and learn more about some of the drivers behind chronic conditions or other concerns with which community residents are dealing.

In concept, the Health Hub is all about collaboration. Partnerships include those with Sports Backers and their Fitness Warriors Program, which offers free fitness classes for all levels, and the Richmond City Health District, which has placed a community health worker at the Health Hub. This individual helps community members identify and navigate resources that are available in the community and across the city.

One aspect of the Health Hub is being managed by the Richmond Health and Wellness Program. This program is interdisciplinary in nature, bringing together representatives from a host of schools, including VCU’s Schools of Nursing and Pharmacy.

“We have folks from our Department of Psychology, as well as our College of Health Professions, which brings occupational therapists into the group. The goal is to build off a program that has historically worked with seniors in congregate living facilities and provide coordination services to help seniors age in place longer,” shares Garland. “But, we understand that not all seniors live in congregate facilities. They may live with their family members in single housing or by themselves. We’ve transplanted the Richmond Health and Wellness Program model and introduced it into the Health Hub.”

This model isn’t just designed for seniors. It affords help for anyone who wants to better understand their health condition, connect with their primary care provider, or identify other resources that might be helpful.

Bringing Care to the Community

All services offered at the Health Hub are free of charge, thanks to VCU and VCU Health’s ability to leverage their assets and resources. Additionally, Garland clarifies that the unique goal of the facility is to fill in gaps and help people navigate to healthcare services—not duplicate services that already exist within the community.

“This innovative initiative allows us to really transform the way we are engaging our students and the way we are working with the community that we have served for so many years. Our hope is to build new and trusted relationships with community residents, so that we are able to bring many of the services and resources into a community that has expressed a need—and address issues that are impacting the health and lives of so many individuals.”

Listen to a full interview with Sheryl Garland on this topic by clicking here.  For more episodes, find the Healthy with VCU Health podcast on any major streaming platform or by visiting the VCU Health Podcast library at vcuhealth.org/podcasts.