Richmond Health and Wellness Program Expands to Health Hub

Pamela Parsons to lead new initiatives within the collaborative care model

By Jenny Pedraza

Since 2012, more than 900 Virginia Commonwealth University Health students have participated in wellness clinic sessions serving vulnerable older and disabled adults living at five low-income housing settings in the Richmond metropolitan area.

The Richmond Health and Wellness Program (RHWP) is an innovative, value-driven collaborative care coordination model that helps to improve the health of communities, enhance the lives of individuals, decrease unnecessary health care utilization and educate future practitioners.

Precepted by faculty in the VCU Schools of Nursing, Pharmacy, Medicine, Social Work, as well as the Departments of Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Kinesiology and Health Sciences and Psychology, student participants gain valuable real-world experiences while connecting with the community.

Pam Parsons“RHWP provides services to individuals at or near the place where they live,” said Pamela Parsons, clinical associate professor and associate dean for practice and community engagement, School of Nursing. “One of the major initiatives is to address social determinants to health, such as access to care and transportation, and to help reduce those barriers. We’re filling in the gap for a strong unmet need for at risk under-served populations and also meeting the strategic initiatives of the university and the health system.”

Individuals, students and faculty develop a collaborative plan of care customized to the health conditions, social needs and resources of each individual, with the goal of developing longitudinal relationships with community residents. A large focus of program activities is centered on assessment, chronic disease monitoring, wellness coaching and providing care coordination to ensure individuals can access the services they need to remain independent in the community.

Beginning this academic year, the RHWP will add a sixth site: the VCU Health Hub at 25th. The health hub opened in May at the intersection of Nine Mile Road and North 25th Street in the City of Richmond. It serves as a health education and wellness center for residents of Richmond’s East End. Parsons serves on the health hub’s steering committee and is excited to see the RHWP continue to grow in partnership with the health hub.

New initiatives for the RHWP include a medical-legal partnership with the University of Richmond School of Law to address issues including advance care planning, housing stability, establishing credit and returning to work. Food insecurity and opioid risk reduction will also be key programmatic and service areas. Through the health hub, student participants will be able to interface with individuals across the lifespan, allowing for more perspectives and deeper learning.

In 2017, the RHWP concept was approved by the university as an iCubed cluster hire centered on health and wellness in aging populations to focus research on improving the lives of community residents. The health hub will aid in the expansion of this research arm.

A resident council will meet regularly at the health hub to help guide research questions, and Parsons said research will also be completed to assess interprofessional student learning. Are students using conversations around wellness in a standardized way and understanding how to help individuals set clearly defined measurable wellness goals? How are they helping residents advocate for themselves and manage their own wellness?

“Our intent is to understand and address needs that the community identifies as important to them,” Parsons said. “The mutually-beneficial nature of the whole model is what is most fascinating. The people we serve love being with our students. It really matters to people that the students are there and are learning from their life experiences. Individuals value the student interaction and want to participate because they know they are helping VCU students, even as the program helps meet their individual service needs.”

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