April 18, 2024/Nursing/Wellness

Caring for the Community, in the Community

Outreach programs support residents, build relationships

Box of goods for food pantry

Nursing isn’t simply a profession; it’s a calling. And that calling leads many nurses to participate in community outreach programs beyond the walls of the healthcare facilities where they work.

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“It’s really important for nurses to understand our purpose beyond what we do just by the bedside rails,” says Terri Murray, MSN, RN, NE-BC, chief nursing officer at Cleveland Clinic South Pointe Hospital. “We also have to understand the people we serve and the gaps in their receiving better access to care, food, education and economic stability. We have to break down the barriers. We are all responsible for it.”

Nurses and other caregivers at South Pointe Hospital routinely break down those barriers through participation in numerous community outreach programs.

Providing healthy food

The hospital runs a mobile food pantry twice a month, distributing food donated by the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. South Pointe employees bag, box and hand out food to nearby residents.

“In 2023, we served 3,981 households and 11,232 individuals, and we provided 86,134 pounds of food out of our back door,” says Murray.

Nicole Pride-Allen, BSN, RN, CV-BC, an ambulatory cardiovascular clinical nurse who grew up across the street from the hospital, volunteers at the mobile food pantry. She spreads the word about the program and the importance of healthy eating.

“When patients come in for appointments, I tell them we are passing out fruits and vegetables,” says Pride-Allen. “If they don’t know how to cook something, I print out a recipe so they can go home, try it and be successful making new foods.”

Planting a community garden

A local church lets South Pointe Hospital use the back portion of its land to plant a community garden. Hospital staff and medical students from Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine plant and care for the garden. The fresh produce is available to community residents.

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“I just love that garden!” says Murray. “When I see community members outside with their bag picking green beans and tomatoes to take home, it fills my soul.”

During the summer, South Pointe Hospital also hosts a farmers market.

Sprucing up neighborhood yards

Each June, dozens of staff members from South Pointe Hospital participate in the “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” beautification day. Volunteers perform light landscaping work, including weeding, pruning, mulching and planting flowers, at homes in the Warrensville Heights, Ohio, community. Local companies pitch in to supply gardening tools, mulch and flowers.

When Neighbors Helping Neighbors launched in 2010, the program supported three homes. It has since grown to include more than 50 homes.

Jennifer Katlen, MSN, MEd, APRN, CCRN, GERO-BC™, a clinical nurse specialist at South Pointe Hospital, and her husband participate in the volunteer day annually, as well as work at the mobile food pantry, which Katlen co-facilitates. She says that community outreach is integral to forming relationships with patients.

“Building trust is imperative to building a healthy community,” says Katlen. “When residents see us out there helping them get produce at the mobile food pantry or working in the gardens or their yards, they remember us and they trust us next time they need care.”

Disease prevention

Nurses at South Pointe Hospital also get out in the community and educate residents, particularly on the top 10 diagnoses of their patients. Sandra Smith, BSN, RN, SCRN, quality coordinator, focuses on stroke and sepsis awareness. She hands out pocket cards with signs and symptoms at local churches, nursing homes and businesses, as well as during the Warrensville Heights Memorial Day parade.

“These are my neighbors,” says Smith, who lives in the community. “I want to see my people educated on what they need to have in their arsenal to get the timely care they need, especially as it relates to time-sensitive disease processes like stroke and sepsis.”

Smith adds that it’s incredibly rewarding to enlighten people about disease prevention.

“If caregivers embrace that title and avail themselves to people – if they step outside of their comfort zone and give of themselves – they will see how rewarding it is,” she says.

Getting started

Murray offers four tips to nursing leaders who want to launch community outreach programs:

  • Ask nurses what interests them. “Try to find out who wants to give back to the community and what they are passionate about,” she says. Tapping into the right people and projects is paramount to success.
  • Begin at the grassroots level. “Attend community fairs and days. Every time we ask, they give us a table at these events,” says Murray. “Get nurses out there doing blood pressure screenings and talking to people about stroke and other important healthcare topics.”
  • Learn about your community’s needs. “Understand who you serve, and start with an issue like food insecurity that people can get behind,” she says.
  • Team up with other organizations. “Partner with local food banks, businesses and churches,” she says. “We have two hands and we’re willing to help, but they have the infrastructure and resources.”

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Community outreach is a critical step to breaking down health disparities. In the ZIP Code™ where South Pointe Hospital resides, residents die an average of 16 to 18 years before those in a ZIP code two miles away, says Murray. That grabs the attention of caregivers and propels them to act.

“We are living in times where we need to be more than just nurses at the bedside,” says Murray. “It’s easy to just do your job and go home, be we have to connect to our purpose.”

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