Norristown, a community in Montgomery County, Pa., just thirteen miles northwest of Philadelphia, was the focus of the community health assessment project for a group of eight senior level nursing students in spring 2012.
In researching the demographics and health statistics of this area, the group uncovered some startling data: according to the Pennsylvania Health Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the infant mortality rate in Norristown is nearly three times the national average. According to the National Vital Statistic System and the CDC, infant mortality rate is defined by the number of children dying under a year of age divided by the number of live births that year. Some of the risk factors associated with this rate were non-genetic: no prenatal care, higher rate of unemployment, and lower rate of graduation from high school. In Pennsylvania, the leading causes of infant mortality are congenital and chromosomal abnormalities, problems related to preterm birth and low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome. While many of these causes are preventable, the students discovered that part of the problem was lack of access to available resources and the dissemination of information to the Norristown population.
The students devised three strategies to address these issues: the utilization of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC), free prenatal vitamins, and a “One-Stop-Shop.” Using the WIC mailing list, mothers covered by this service could receive education material on prenatal care and ways to prevent infant mortality. Places like CVS, Wal-Mart, Acme, and Giant in the Norristown area that participate in the free antibiotic programs would also provide a free prenatal vitamin program. Finally, the students developed a “One-Stop-Shop”. Through the use of the George Washington Carver Community Center, this shop would be available for pregnant women and parents with infants up to one year of age on the first Saturday of every month. Parents would be provided with education, support groups and a variety of resources.
Some of the proposed available resources were services such as WIC, the Department of Public Welfare, and the less commonly known Safelink and Text4Baby. For income eligible participants, Safelink wireless is a government program that provides cell phones and up to 250 free minutes each month. Text4baby, a free program of the National Healthy Mothers and Health Babies Coalition, provides parents with free weekly health tips throughout the infant’s first year. The students planned to evaluate all three methods and the outcomes to assess the efficacy of each of these recommended plans of action.
In addition to their proposed strategies, the group also set an objective to present their information at a city council meeting in Norristown. Dean’na Gillison, one of the students in this group, reached out to her friend on the municipal council, Dwayne Royster, councilman at large, about their project. The students were asked to present the information to the seven council members and the audience which included people from the community as well as representatives from various newspapers including The Times Herald that serves Montgomery County. The council, extremely impressed by the presentation and moved by the student findings, decided to create a committee that was dedicated to working on this issue. They also asked if the students would come back and present their findings and the outcomes of their proposed strategies. Senior Bridget Carroll of Andover, Mass. Noted, “Several audience members and board members stopped us on the way out to ask questions or discuss the information we found at further length. The night overall was a big success and one city resident even proposed starting up the one-stop-shop at a vacant location on Main street.”
This rare opportunity gave the students a chance to influence change and put their work into action. Amanda Ward, one of the students who worked on this project and who is interested in public health and psychosocial issues said, “This experience helped me to better understand the power we have as nurses and turned a semester’s worth of research and hard work into something that could have a lasting effect on the community.”