March 26, 2016
A unique partnership between health care leaders and students that promotes civic engagement by connecting patients to community agencies to address food, housing and clothing needs is expanding.
The innovative partnership of Marshfield Clinic, Family Health Center of Marshfield, Inc., and University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, called the Community Connections Team, has equipped over 300 patients with community resources since its inception in April 2015. The partnership which began at Marshfield Clinic Eau Claire Center now offers the service at Chippewa Falls Dental Center.
Social determinants of health are conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. Social, behavioral, environmental and other factors account for 90 percent of health outcomes, according to state of Wisconsin's "Healthiest Wisconsin 2020" report, and the collaboration is finding ways to create access to social determinants to improve community health.
Lynn Stanford, interim executive director for Community Table, a food pantry that Community Connections Team often refers patients to, knows firsthand the importance that social factors play in health outcomes, specifically in regards to food access.
"Having access to nutritional food is essential for everyone," Stanford said. "With proper nutrition, children can concentrate in school better, stay awake and improve their grades."
Patients at the Clinic's Eau Claire Center and Chippewa Falls Dental Center who need assistance with social needs are referred to the Community Connections Team at Eau Claire Center. Based on the patient's needs, volunteers connect them to appropriate community resources.
Patients, whose privacy is protected in this service, have shared their appreciation:
"Without the Community Connections Team volunteers and their determination to connect me to community agencies, it would be incredibly difficult for me to find transportation to my medical appointments. I probably wouldn't get there at all."
"I know it is not just me they are helping, they're helping many others."
"I have received a lot of help from Community Connections Team. I wouldn't have known about the resources without them."
"Research shows socio-economic factors impact overall health so we must bridge the medical and economic determinants to care for patients' total health care needs," said Greg Nycz, director of the Family Health Center of Marshfield, Inc. "Service-learning opportunities, such as Community Connections Team, provide students with a broader experience than traditional health care, and our hope is to recruit more students into the health care field."
College students wanting to make a lasting impact, as well as community institutions such as Marshfield Clinic and the Family Health Center of Marshfield, Inc., recognize the value of investing in students. Not only are patients receiving help, but students are gaining valuable experience shaping their perspective toward health disparities.
While many Community Connections Team volunteers are pre-professional health students, volunteers study a variety of subjects including social work, nursing and kinesiology. The concern and passion volunteers demonstrate toward poverty and equity discrepancies in the community is a reminder all community members are equally responsible for working together to create a solution.
Rick Behlmer, a UW-Eau Claire senior pursuing a career as a physician, knows his experience volunteering for Community Connections Team will change the way he practices medicine.
"Acknowledging that health disparities exist in communities like ours is the first step; then comes the understanding that all of us can play a part in making sure that these health disparities don't worsen," said Behlmer.
Marshfield Clinic provides patient care, research and education with more than 50 locations in northern, central and western Wisconsin, making it one of the largest comprehensive medical systems in the United States.
Family Health Center of Marshfield, Inc., a community health center program, partners with Marshfield Clinic to improve access to high quality health care services, including doctor visits, prescription drugs and dental care for the underserved and enhances community health. It operates 10 dental centers in Wisconsin communities.
The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is consistently ranked among the top 10 public Midwestern universities and recognized nationally for quality academics and high return on investment. UW-Eau Claire serves more than 10,400 students, providing a transformative liberal education that is the foundation for active citizenship and lifelong inquiry.