The University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Nursing has received a $3.9 million, four-year grant that will enable the college to provide health care to two rural counties using a mobile health unit. The grant will also allow the college to integrate rural health education into its undergraduate and graduate programs.
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant is called Student Training and Education through Partnerships with Underserved Populations for Health Equity and Lifestyle Promotion (STEP UP and HELP). It focuses on outreach to Lake and Lauderdale counties in West Tennessee, which are designated by HRSA as underserved.
“There is a population in Lake and Lauderdale counties who have poorer health care outcomes due to difficulty accessing care,” said Assistant Professor Diana Dedmon, DNP, FNP-BC, who is the principal investigator for the grant. “It’s exciting to know that these two communities will benefit from this grant.”
Lake and Lauderdale counties have the second and thirteenth highest poverty rates among the 95 Tennessee counties, respectively, according to the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute Report on Tennessee for 2021. Lake County has the highest incidence of low birth weight and smoking. Lauderdale County has the second highest rates of diabetes and adult obesity and the fourth highest adult smoking rate. Life expectancy in both counites is below state and national averages.
“This is such an exciting grant that can create real-world changes to improve the health and quality of life in these communities,” said College of Nursing Dean Wendy Likes, PhD, DNSc, APRN-BC, FAANP. “The work through this grant will also expose students to the unique needs of rural communities with the goal of sparking a desire to work in rural communities.”
The first six months of the grant will be focused on developing partnerships and meeting with community advisory boards in the counties to determine the needs and creating a plan to meet those needs, Dr. Dedmon said. During the first year, the grant team will also work to purchase and retrofit a vehicle to serve as a mobile health unit.
A primary goal of the grant is to establish the mobile health unit to provide care to vulnerable populations that do not have health care access. “There are rural health care providers who have dedicated their careers to making a difference in these counties. This project does not intend to compete with those providers, but rather to work with them to offer greater access to care,” Dr. Dedmon said. Some of the care will be offered directly on the mobile health unit, and some can be offered through telehealth. The mobile health unit will be staffed with an advanced practice nurse and a medical assistant.
Another major goal of the grant is to expand the nursing workforce and to increase the cultural competency of nurses serving patients in rural areas. Students in the college’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program will have the opportunity to earn microcredentials in selected concepts that prepare nurse graduates to improve health equity, access, and outcomes for vulnerable populations. A Rural Scholars Program will be implemented in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program for the following concentrations: family nurse practitioner, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, and nurse-midwifery. Students in this program will complete 50 percent of their clinical hours on the mobile health unit and will focus their DNP scholarly project on a health care challenge in the rural community.
Assistant Professor Christie Manasco, PhD, RN, who is a co-investigator for the grant, will lead the rural education segment for the BSN program. “As a first of its kind in West Tennessee, the mobile health unit will help address specific needs of the populations in Lake and Lauderdale counties, while developing a nursing workforce prepared to improve health outcomes in underserved populations,” she said.
Assistant Professor Lisa Beasley, DNP, APRN, NP-C, RN, is also a co-investigator for the grant and will lead the DNP Rural Scholars Program. “The opportunity to have nurses lead a community-based, mobile health unit to serve the socioeconomic needs related to health care access of those citizens in Lake and Lauderdale Counties will not only benefit these vulnerable populations, but will help strengthen the rural health workforce. Both undergraduate and graduate students will be able to enhance their critical-thinking skills to become more culturally aware and understand how the social determinants of health affect patient and population health outcomes.”
Dr. Dedmon, who grew up in Lauderdale County and worked there as a nurse practitioner, said she hopes the education portion of the grant will expose nursing students to the intrinsic benefits of serving rural communities. “It is so rewarding to serve in rural communities where you are able to connect with patients and their families on such a personal level,” she said.