Faculty, students assess community health needs, get hands-on experience

An assessment of community health needs, led by University of Georgia faculty and facilitated by the UGA Archway Partnership, has contributed to a new urgent care center for one middle Georgia county and resulted in a scholarly article in the Journal of the Georgia Public Health Association.

Graduate students from the College of Public Health helped conduct the IRS-mandated Community Health Needs Assessment at Hawkinsville’s Taylor Regional Hospital under the direction of UGA College of Public Health faculty members Marsha Davis and Grace Bagwell-Adams.

They provided the kind of expertise that isn’t easily found in small communities, said Michelle Elliott, Archway operations coordinator and Archway Partnership professional in Pulaski County.

“Students come in and partner, get the local knowledge from the Archway professional and the people that are invested in the community, and really make something of value for the hospital and community,” Elliott said.

The students, Ayanna Robinson and Sabrina Cherry, analyzed data from 400 surveys developed by Davis, the associate dean for outreach and engagement in the College of Public Health. They also conducted three focus groups to get additional feedback. The team used a five-step process recommended by Georgia Watch, the state’s leading consumer advocacy organization, following a study of 38 CHNAs and 29 implementation strategies across Georgia.

The assessments, which are required every three years in order for hospitals to maintain their nonprofit status, can be a burden to smaller hospitals, Davis said. Universities like UGA can help gather direct input from local residents, including vulnerable populations, which can lead to a more comprehensive strategy for improvement.

The assessment already supported the opening of an urgent care facility in Hawkinsville, Taylor Express Care, which served 10 patients on opening day earlier this summer. The hospital also is conducting monthly forums that provide information on health care issues like diabetes and access to prescription drugs.

Robinson said the work in Hawkinsville was the highlight of her two years with Davis.

“I had work experience before coming back to get my Ph.D.,” Robinson said. “But nothing like the translation of what we learned in class to hands-on, real-life experience. It really enhances the learning process. It’s easy to learn methods and theory, but being able to apply them shows you mastered that skill.”

The process of conducting the assessment, which could become a model for other communities, is the subject of a paper written by Robinson, Cherry, Elliott, Davis and Bagwell-Adams, an assistant professor in the College of Public Health. “Leveraging university-community partnerships in rural Georgia: A community health needs assessment for hospitals,” was published this summer.

Fostering cooperation between communities and the state’s land-grant university is the reason the Archway Partnership was launched more than a decade ago. The Public Service and Outreach unit has worked in 12 communities in Georgia, using UGA resources to overcome and address challenges identified by those communities.

“This is a great example of how the Archway Partnership helps support all three missions of the University of Georgia: service, teaching and research,” said Archway Director Rob Gordon. “These types of collaborations are certainly valuable to the university, but at the same time address real needs on the part of these rural communities.”

Read the journal article online.

Original news release can be found on UGA Today and UGA Public Service and Outreach. Additional coverage at the Athens Banner Herald.

– Christopher James

Posted on September 12, 2016.

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