Nursing finds lessons in the community

It’s new, admittedly different, but definitely a win-win for everyone.

A partnership between Western’s Nursing program and Minto Properties, a company that owns and manages London’s Cherryhill Village Mall and its adjacent residential buildings – a predominantly senior community, is proving mutually beneficial, simultaneously fostering holistic health in the neighbourhood as well as fresh perspectives on the nursing profession.

Third-year students take a course, Community Health Nursing, on promoting overall health in entire communities, said Thelma Riddell, who teaches Nursing at Western.

“For years, we’ve worked with community agencies – a shelter, school, the health unit or mental health services – and treated (the agency) as a community. But we wanted to get students thinking of bigger communities, and to place them in a neighbourhood,” she explained.

And Cherryhill might be perfect. The area is a neighbourhood unto itself, by the nature of the buildings and the mainly seniors who live there. Minto is promoting ‘aging in place,’ for residents to get older and continue to live in that community. They want to make it easy for seniors to stay where they are and live a fulfilling life there.

That’s where Western’s Nursing students come in.

“What we have is a natural-occurring senior community. They have chosen and continue to choose Cherryhill because of the amenities we offer here – over 110 services,” said Blair Spencer, Minto director of property operations. “What we’re currently doing is a gap analysis of services in place, to see how we can enhance them.”

Minto’s partnership with Western emerged as one approach to filling the gaps.

“At first it was a bit standoffish. The seniors weren’t very comfortable. They’re nervous (talking and sharing information) because they think people might report them and they’d have to go into a nursing home,” Spencer said of the first group of students who started last fall. “Part of the exercise was to identify communication challenges and find the most effective venue. And building trust takes time.”

It may have taken some time, but the efforts are starting to pay off.

After successfully reaching out to the community through its seniors activity centre last term, the second group of students really connected. They noticed the need for improved promotion of the Friendly Visitor Program, offered through the Victorian Order of Nurses, Spencer added.

The program pairs a volunteer with a senior in the community, encouraging home visits and outings for a minimum of one hour each week to decrease the elderly’s level of loneliness.

“Students felt there was need for more seniors to enjoy the benefits of the program but found that either people didn’t know about it or they had misunderstandings,” Riddell said.

The promotion for the program wasn’t appealing. For example, posters asking ‘Are you lonely?’ with small white print on a light background were not working.

“Older people have trouble seeing white print, and who wants to admit they’re lonely? Seniors value their independence,” Riddell explained.

The students suggested better ways to market the program – among them changing the font colour and size and avoiding unappealing phrases and images – for it to reach and help those in the community that may feel isolated.

“A lot of small things like that, over time, really do contribute to good things in the end,” Riddell said.

It’s not just the Cherryhill community that’s benefiting from this partnership.

“The bottom line is that the students learn is that there’s more to health than bedside nursing,” Riddell said. “A lot of them have preconceived notions of what nurses do, and they think community nursing isn’t exciting or working with patients. It’s different, but equally as satisfying.”

The program will look at other neighbourhoods in the city where students can contribute and learn about community health.

“It’s been a good reciprocal relationship (with Minto) because the students learn a lot and the community gains a lot,” Riddell said.