BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
Bethune-Cookman University has partnered with Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center to pilot a program in 2014 that will help local residents manage their chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Patients who receive care at Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center and meet a certain criteria, including medical history of chronic diseases and financial need, will be eligible for enrollment in the Florida Hospital Community Care program.
A team of clinicians including a registered nurse, social worker, dietician, and counselor, supported by a team of student health coaches from Bethune-Cookman University, will coordinate post-discharge care for patients with limited resources to manage their chronic conditions.
“This is an innovative way to provide care to our patients who do not have the necessary resources to do it on their own,” said Dr. Ron Jimenez, Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center’s chief medical officer.
“Once these patients leave the hospital, a team will coordinate care for them indefinitely, free of charge. No one else in the area is doing anything like this, especially partnering with a university to train students.”
Students taking part in the program from B-CU are among an elite group of students as the course is an honors class.
In January, Jimenez and Jill Piazza, Florida Hospital Volusia/Flagler Director of Health and Performance, will teach a class called “Community Healthcare: From Theory to Practice.”
For sophomores and juniors
This seminar is an academic class offered as an elective for sophomore and junior pre-medicine and other health sciences majors, and will train students on how to be a health coach.
“We have focused and will continue to focus on our students being prepared for the health profession,” explained Dr. Alma Dixon, Assistant Provost and Executive Dean of the College of Health Sciences at B-CU.
“The program fits with the vision of the college of health sciences and President (Edison) Jackson. It also felt like what we thought could give us a very important academic piece. To understand what it is to have a client, especially with a chronic illness, so many of their needs fall between the cracks.”
Paired with patients
The course is being taught this spring by experts in the field from the medical center as well as faculty from B-CU. Dixon added that the session pertaining to ethics as it relates to the uninsured and the underinsured is being taught by B-CU professor Dr. Michael Humphries.
“Students complete a didactic piece first and then during the summer months complete the practicum,” she explained. During the practicum, the student health coaches will interact with people who have chronic illnesses, largely who are uninsured.
The students will be paired with patients to help coach them and emphasize compliance with the personalized health plan mapped out specifically for their care.
“They will have a good sense of what the health care system is really like and will be able to help the clients they meet.”
Emergency to managed care
“People go to the hospital in large numbers through the emergency room, which is very expensive care,” Dixon continued. “They are treated, released and given written discharge papers. ‘This is what you are supposed to take, this is what you are supposed to do.’ They get home look at the discharge orders and it says to do a follow up visit.
‘What happens if I don’t have transportation? What if I am afraid to go into the doctor’s office? What if I can’t afford it?’”
As a health coach, students will aim to reduce what can escalate into costly and overwhelming health problems. This includes helping patients avoid missing appointments, misunderstandings and noncompliance with prescribed health regiments.
Dixon explains that the health coaches will be alongside the clients to help them navigate the procedures.
“They may have no idea of the full diagnosis. How many times have we have heard some one say ‘I have a touch of sugar?’ The students will have had a whole semester of learning cultural pieces, learning a little bit about diabetes and others,” she noted.
“We aren’t making them diagnosticians, but learning enough about diabetes to talk to someone in their home and forming relationships.”
“Time and time again throughout the country we are finding people who have to manage a chronic illness. It is a big chunk to have to manage but it is manageable. All aspects of it. Keeping follow-up appointments, following a medication regime, eating the right things. It is a big task.”
Added Piazza, This is a hands-on internship. These students will gain real-world experience as they interact with patients and write and present case reports to the Florida Hospital Community Care team each week.”
“We are making a major contribution to the community to those people who may fall between the cracks because they truly don’t understand what management means or how to manage it or just to think that someone cares. That is Bethune-Cookman. That is our legacy. Reaching out, grabbing our community one by one and helping them.”
The program will accept 50 patients in 2014, with plans to grow in numbers and eventually expand to other area Florida Hospital locations.