Bringing Care and Compassion to the Homebound
It is one thing to sit in a classroom, or even in a laboratory, and learn the ins and outs of one’s desired profession. It is quite another to put that knowledge into action. But that is just what a partnership between Mobile Meals of Spartanburg and the Mary Black School of Nursing at USC Upstate is doing for today’s nursing students.
Course coordinator Charlene Walton, EdD, RN, and Jenny Holmes, MSN, RN, select eight senior nursing students per semester to work with nurses from Mobile Meals nursing ministry in conducting in-home visits to meal recipients. During these visits the students, who work in pairs, initially conduct a health history and family assessment to identify the healthcare needs of each client. Based on that information, the students then develop a teaching/learning plan and over the course of the next five weeks, implement that plan. These plans can cover anything from vascular disease and nutritional education to proper medication management and home safety.
Since 1977, Mobile Meals has been delivering meals and compassion to the frail and homebound in the Spartanburg area. After seeing that many of the neediest people in the county had no access to healthcare, Mobile Meals president and CEO Jayne McQueen led the effort to secure $288,000 in seed money from the Mary Black Foundation, and in 2002, with the help of Wylene Bailey, RN, and Janet Shaw, both former Mobile Meals board members, the organization’s Nursing Ministry began serving patients.
While no one can quite remember just how this partnership between Mobile Meals and the University’s nursing students developed, everyone involved agrees that it is an invaluable learning experience for future nurses and a great asset to one of Spartanburg’s vital community agencies. “Anytime you can partner with others in the community it helps to further your own [organization’s] mission,” says Bailey. Dr. Marsha Dowell, dean of the Mary Black School of Nursing, agrees. “Whenever an academic unit can partner with someone in the community to augment and enhance a program while students learn is beneficial to everyone. Our students help vulnerable members of the community and learn to apply both theories and caring in an environment that is incredibly supportive of them.”
During the five-week community nursing rotation, students have an opportunity to experience first-hand the challenges and rewards that come from working with patients who often fall through the cracks of traditional medical services. “Community health allows you to remember this is a whole person,” says Shaw. “In clinical settings, people are often categorized by the disease [they have], but community nurses see them in their homes and it gives them a broader picture of the person.” In addition to taking vital signs and helping the patients with their healthcare needs, often what the patient needs most is just a visitor to listen to their thoughts and concerns. “The greatest need for many of our patients is loneliness,” says Bailey. “They love the youthful energy the students bring when they visit.”
Heather Chapman, a senior nursing student, has found her placement with the Mobile Meals nursing ministry to be a perfect match. “I would recommend this experience 100% to other nursing students. This experience humbles you as you visit so many different types of homes,” says Chapman. “Just because you think you know what people are going through, you see a whole different perspective when you go into their environment.”
As Mrs. Lewis opens the door, her face lights up at the sight of the students who have come to visit her. Mobile Meals began visiting Mrs. Lewis and her husband of 54 years when he got sick with Parkinson’s disease. Now that he is in a nursing home, Mrs. Lewis says it does get lonely but she appreciates the nursing ministry’s visits. Bailey, one of the two full-time nurses who staff the nursing ministry, stops by regularly to see how she is doing and to just listen. Mrs. Lewis also enjoys the students’ visits. “The students are so nice. I had my 81st birthday and Heather brought me a birthday card. It was the sweetest thing,” she said. “It means so much to me. They’re so loving and kind.”
As they sit and talk about how she’s feeling and her recent visit to her husband, it is obvious Mrs. Lewis has had just as much of an impact on Chapman. “Mrs. Lewis has given me more than I could have ever imagined. She is an absolute joy to work with.”