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UIC Nursing helps launch health, wellness clinic at West Side elementary school

Altus Academy

In an effort to address the health and wellness barriers experienced by students attending Altus Academy and their families, the UIC College of Nursing and College of Applied Health Sciences are running a new, on-site health clinic at the elementary school in an underserved neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side.

The clinic, called the UIC Healthspan Clinic, is located in recently renovated space at the nonprofit, private elementary school and offers access to a nurse practitioner for eight hours each week and wellness classes. Beginning in the spring, the clinic also will provide behavioral health support.

These services were developed after UIC experts and Altus administrators sat down with students, families and an advisory group to discuss health concerns and barriers to healthy living. During those early meetings, the group brought up their specific needs and visions for healthcare, wellness education and involvement.

Susan Walsh, UIC Nursing clinical associate professor and director of the pediatric nurse practitioner program, will lead primary care services at the clinic.

“Multiple barriers have prevented families from seeking or obtaining needed health care,” said Walsh. “As Altus is already part of families’ busy days, providing a variety of healthcare services on site is both appealing and helpful.”

“Involving the families allowed them the opportunity to actively engage in their own healthy lifestyles, making this partnership between UIC, Altus Academy and the families really special,” said Ross Arena, UIC professor and head of physical therapy.

“Altus has a history of building strong partnerships with the families we serve,” said John Heybach, founder and president of Altus Academy. “Many of our families come from low-income backgrounds, which can be a barrier to good education and healthcare. We want to make sure that everyone gets a great education and great health care regardless of ability to pay.”

“Family health beliefs and practices are shared among relatives and passed on through generations,” said Grenita Hall, UIC visiting clinical assistant professor of physical therapy. “So, it was important to create an open space and welcome the families’ contributions.”
Hall will spearhead the behavioral health services at the clinic.

“A lot of work in our department focuses on chronic disease prevention and starting it as early as possible,” Arena said. “With this clinic, we created a model that rethinks the health care system by making health care more feasible for the whole community.”

Arena said that UIC students also will benefit from this type of collaboration. “Nursing students are already gaining real-world experiences in delivering healthy lifestyle intervention,” he said.

Walsh said, “Our bilingual and experienced nurse practitioner students work with me in the clinic to help build capacity, partnership, reciprocity and sustainability with the Altus families and community.”

“Students will see firsthand the complex nature of communicating health and wellness information to people with various health literacy levels,” Hall said.

“The most exciting thing is that this program provides a new and much more effective model to serve the health care needs of these families,” Heybach said. “We want to be able to help kids get a visualization of good health care. By working collaboratively and being attentive to the families’ needs, the students cannot fail.”