Colleges launch health, wellness clinic at local elementary school

In an effort to address the health and wellness barriers experienced by students attending Altus Academy and their families, the University of Illinois at Chicago is running a new, on-site health clinic at the nonprofit, private elementary school.

The clinic, called the UIC Healthspan Clinic, is collaboratively run by the College of Applied Health Sciences and the College of Nursing. It is located in recently renovated space at the 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 health care, wellness education and involvement.

“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 health care. We want to make sure that everyone gets a great education and great health care regardless of ability to pay.”

Fitness Fun Day at Altus Academy
Fitness Fun Day at Altus Academy. UIC’s Grenita Hall talking with students.

“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, while Susan Walsh, from the College of Nursing, will lead primary care services.

“Multiple barriers have prevented families from seeking or obtaining needed health care,” said Walsh, clinical associate professor and director of the pediatric nurse practitioner program. “As Altus is already part of families’ busy days, providing a variety of health care services on site is both appealing and helpful.”

“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.”

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