Creating health connections beyond office walls

If you ask someone at Carle Health why they work as a community health professional, you will hear them use words like service, bridge and honor.

They represent the threads that connect community health assistance with those most in need. Early development childhood, rural health, faith partners, Eureka school nurses, mobile healthcare and nurse home visiting are just a few ways Carle Health team members make trusted connections in order to improve the lives of others. This week, June 5-11, is Community Health Improvement Week, designated by the American Hospital Association as a time to reflect on the value these employees bring not only to health care systems, but also the communities where they work. A few care team members offer their views of the importance of their work as well as the rewards.

Kyeshia Lewis is a graduate of Healthy Beginnings through Carle Community Health Initiatives and she is now serving as a community ambassador on the early childhood education team.

“A child’s early years are the foundation for his or her future development. My team and I provide the building blocks for educational achievements, which will help them to develop confidence and great self-esteem,” Lewis said. A mother herself, she said, “Every child learns what you teach them, what they see and hear. If I can make a difference by helping the ability for a child to grow mentally and physically, I am proud to make the world a better place.”

Faith community nurses serve in their congregations by providing blood pressure checks, health and wellness events, support groups, educational offerings, blood drives and more. Danna Williamson, MSN, RN, NPD-BC, RN 3, moves throughout several counties in her role as a nurse within Faith Community Health. Her work experiences include social work, Red Cross volunteering, being a Carle bedside nurse and then the Clinical Education team at Carle before becoming a faith community nurse.

“I felt a calling to serve our community in a different way. God had placed the desire in my heart to move out of my comfort zone into a new role that would be exciting, challenging and rewarding. When the opportunity arose for me to apply for a position as a Faith Community Nurse in the Faith Community Health Department I was elated! I am excited and proud to be chosen for this new role.”

Also traveling throughout the region is Amy Rademaker, Rural Health and Farm Safety coordinator for more than 20 years. Amy is a trusted source for many, having grown up on a farm and continuing the farming tradition in her family.

“While Champaign-Urbana may be more urban, once you travel five minutes outside of those communities, you can be rural,” she said. Carle Foundation Hospital is a level 1 trauma center and farm accidents in the region often arrive at the Emergency Department door.

“One child dies every three days on a farm and more than half while they are playing. Every day, 33 rural kids, on average, need medical assistance. Rural adults often struggle with obesity and other chronic conditions not closely monitored and when they have a stroke or heart attack, response time is of the essence,” she said. Her efforts of communicating with rural families and school children through presentations and classroom experiences focus on preventing injuries from happening as well as promoting quick and safe responses to emergencies and offering understanding to residents about the types of rural injuries that can occur.

“People find me when they need me and I am okay with that. Farming, in particular, happens outside of and 8-5, Monday through Friday schedule and I want to be there for them whenever they need me regardless of the reason,” said Rademaker.

At Carle BroMenn, the Rev. Christine McNeal, BCC, is senior staff chaplain and coordinator for Faith Community Relations. “You get to meet some awesome people when you are out in the former journalist community, she in empowering community members with accurate health information.”

An interfaith breakfast for clergy in the Bloomington-Normal area evolved into a series of virtual sessions on psychological first aid early in the pandemic and now she is working on a project to develop advocates focused on mammography screenings for black women who often die earlier than other populations from breast cancer.

“Forming those partnerships provide us with so many opportunities to say we will care for your needs,” McNeal said.

For Sarah Asklund, BSN-RN, CLC, she too is proud to serve patients beyond the hospital and clinic walls. As a nurse home visitor on the Family Foundations team of Community Health Initiatives, she works to build health equity in the region using evidence-based education and support to families who deliver babies at Carle and live anywhere in Champaign County. From newborn and postpartum care to postpartum mood disorders, breast and formula feeding and safe sleep, she is part of a team of whose members are also certified lactation counselors. They make up to three home visits as well as make themselves available to families for 30 days after the initial home visit. They also coordinate care through other Carle departments and follow up on any unplanned visits to Convenient Care, admissions or the Emergency Department.

“What an intimate space and time those first few weeks of having a newborn are. I am proud to be able to serve patients beyond the hospital and clinic walls, I see the true value in our work, and I’ve made the sweetest most sincere connections with patients and their families in my role as a Nurse Home Visitor,” Asklund said.

“We hope to act as a two-way bridge for families in the sometimes daunting world of healthcare and vice versa,” she said. “Community health workers are essential for building legitimate trust with the people we serve and to eventually chip away at the health disparities that effect our neighbors.”

Together with community partners, Carle works to build a culture of health for families no matter what barriers they face. It is central to everything Carle does. To learn more about the programs and connections Carle makes throughout the region, go to Carle.org.

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