WCSU partners with BI Cares Foundation on cross-sector collaboration
Health Promotion & Exercise Sciences project supports AmeriCares Free Clinics

Image of Boehringer-Ingelheim health partnership.DANBURY, CONN. Western Connecticut State University has established a partnership with the Boehringer Ingelheim Cares Foundation that has engaged WCSU students and faculty in a multi-faceted collaborative program. The program aims to strengthen patient adherence to health care recommendations and improve treatment outcomes at the Boehringer Ingelheim AmeriCares Free Clinic in Danbury through the use of health coaches.

The WCSU Health Promotion and Exercise Sciences (HPX) Department embarked in fall 2015 on an initiative with the BI Cares Foundation that has involved faculty members and 13 HPX students in a cooperative project to assess health adherence needs at the AmeriCares Free Clinics in Connecticut and develop health education information materials for patients. The students' class and field work as part of the service learning component of the Health Promotion Studies degree will continue through the spring semester in 2017.

"This is a great opportunity for our students to go out into the community and gain service learning, which is built into our courses," HPX Department Co-chair and Professor Dr. Robyn Housemann observed. "Better health adherence will help the patients and clinics as well because, if the clients stay healthy, they should need less frequent treatment and place less strain on the clinics' providers."

BI Cares Foundation, a nonprofit corporation and primary supporter of the Boehringer Ingelheim AmeriCares Free Clinic in Danbury, entered into discussions with WCSU faculty and administrative staff last spring to explore new ways in which the foundation can collaborate with the university to expand its impact in the greater Danbury community. Lilly Ackley, president of the Boehringer Ingelheim Cares Foundation, noted that the focus turned to the potential benefits of introducing a health coach program at the Danbury clinic as a means to improve patient outcomes.

"What we want to do is to help patients understand what they need to do differently for their health care and why it's important," Ackley said.

In the first stage of the project, students in the Introduction to Community Health Organizations course taught by HPX Associate Professor Dr. Emily Stevens surveyed medical staff at AmeriCares' four clinics in Connecticut to identify common illnesses and diseases treated and assess specific needs for health care information to improve patient adherence to provider recommendations. Boehringer Ingelheim staff also visited Stevens' HPX 491 Health Promotion Senior Seminar class in October to lead a workshop on motivational interviewing techniques designed to improve dialogue between health care providers and patients and improve health adherence.

"The objective is to use interviewing and counseling as a way to motivate patients who may not be inclined to engage in healthy behaviors," Stevens said. "The goal is to change the tone of the conversation by being an empathetic listener and having patients become more involved in the conversation about healthy living, so that you empower patients as you interview them."

Students in the Health Communications and Marketing course taught by Housemann have focused in the initial phase of the collaboration this fall on development of educational brochures about topics including nutrition and exercise, which will be distributed to patients at the AmeriCares clinics.

The work completed in fall 2015 will lay the groundwork for students at Western to continue their engagement in the BI Cares Foundation project in HPX service learning courses during the spring and fall semesters in 2016 and the spring term in 2017.

"For our students, the goal is to provide them with the opportunity to practice what they're learning in a real-world setting," Housemann said. "Our partnership with BI Cares gives our students the chance to bring experiential learning to the next level by taking our students through the whole health promotion process, from planning and pre-testing to implementation and evaluation. When they go out to seek internships and jobs in their field, they will be more attractive to hire because they already have the experience."

Ackley expressed confidence that the present project at AmeriCares clinics marks the beginning of a new collaborative relationship with WCSU and other community partners to pursue initiatives advancing health care and patient outcomes in the greater Danbury area. "We came to realize that Western would be a great partner for the cross-sector collaboration on health," she said, "and we have had a great experience in working with our colleagues at Western to develop new areas for collaboration with the university."

For more information, contact the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.

Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England's best small private universities.



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