Two of the Baltimore area's venerable institutions, Towson University and the Helping Up Mission, have partnered to provide critical health-care services to one of Baltimore City's most vulnerable populations, thanks to a grant from the CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last fall eight seniors from Mary Lashley's Community Health Nursing course screened the mission's 170 residents for tuberculosis, a disease to which the urban homeless–with their high incidence of IV drug use, HIV and incarceration–are particularly susceptible, says Lashley.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for our students to address the health issues that affect an undeserved population," she says. The 119-year-old Helping Up Mission, she adds, is a non-denominational, faith-based organization providing counseling, medical and legal services, vocational training and job placement in addition to an overnight shelter and the area's largest long-term residential addiction recovery program. Its work is supported by individuals, churches, businesses and foundations.
"I'd been volunteering there for about a year and identified a need for TB screening," Lashley says. In her search for resources, she discovered the Baltimore City Health Department's TB Control Division administered a CDC block grant earmarked for battling the disease.
She applied for the grant through TU's University Research Services and received $28,124 to fund the program last year.
The CDC money enabled her students to plan and implement a targeted testing tuberculosis screening program and conduct TB skin testing on a high-risk population. As part of the program they educated residents on risk factors, method of transmission, and ways of preventing or controlling the spread of the disease.
"But adherence to a TB treatment program is as crucial as diagnosis and education," says Lashley. While the fall term group focused on screening and educating, her spring term students were charged with follow-up tracking and coaching.
"This has been such a rewarding experience for the students," she says. "They're gaining valuable experience in community-based planning and program evaluation. Just as important, they're learning how to provide culturally competent care and to be sensitive to the needs of the poor and the homeless.
"It's a transformative experience for everyone," she adds. "Once they get to know to know the residents as individuals, any stereotypes the students may have had are shattered. "And those who benefit from their efforts are delighted that people care enough to come there and invest time in them."
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