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Nursing students tackle community needs


Melissa Binger, far left, Kevin Johnson, Michelle Dang and Cecilia Martinez work together to make the Healthshack program a success.

Sacramento State nursing students are reaching out to people who don’t have access to traditional health providers and medical care. Students enrolled in Sacramento State’s Community Health Nursing course are given public health assignments, working at entities such as schools and public health agencies, and holding immunization clinics.

One of those projects is Healthshack at the Wind Youth Center, a haven for the area’s homeless and at-risk young people, ages 11-22, that offers them schooling, meals and many other services.

A collaborative effort that includes UC Davis, FollowMe Inc. and the Sierra Health Foundation, Healthshack helps young people create an online, personal health record.

“The nursing students do a fantastic job of tracking down medical records and scanning them in our office so the young people have a safe electronic copy and don’t have to worry about losing paperwork along the way,” Project Manager Melissa Binger says.

Nursing student Cecilia Martinez worked with Healthshack last semester. “We help the young people out with Medi-Cal insurance – teaching them how to get it or whom to call and how to get through the process,” she says.

The nursing students also immunize Wind clients against a wide range of illnesses, treat minor injuries such as scrapes and twisted ankles, and refer them to emergency rooms or physicians for more serious problems.

Healthshack began four years ago when physician and UC Davis professor Dr. Elizabeth Miller joined up with Wind because there weren’t many clinical services or connections available to marginalized young people. A friend of a friend suggested they adapt a health record program developed for migrant workers. “I felt it would be good for young people to have a health record that’s easily accessible and easily usable,” Miller says.

Miller is also the doctoral dissertation advisor to Sacramento State Nursing Professor Michelle Dang, who worked with Miller and other community health faculty to make the program sustainable by having nursing students complete their community health experience at Wind. “It’s a wonderful way for students to have this learning experience, and to provide a crucial service, without cost, to the young people and families,” says Dang, who also volunteers at the center.

Health Ambassadors make up another component of the program. These are young people who serve as a first contact for potential clients. “We try to get them comfortable at first and just get them to know the center. Then we introduce them to Healthshack,” says Health Ambassador Kevin Johnson, 17.

The program has been so successful, Binger hopes to expand it into other sites and agencies throughout Northern California.

And that would also mean more opportunities for nursing students to get real-life experience. “I like being out there, in the community,” Martinez says. “There is a lot of need in the community and I want to be part of the process of helping out.”

For more information about the programs, call the Wind center at (916) 443-8333. For media assistance, call Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156.