Students Use Evidence-Based Knowledge in Homeless Community Outreach Project

Vanderbilt University School of Nursing PreSpecialty students in Enhancement of Community and Population Health helped more than 85 members of Nashville’s transient population during a Room In The Inn health event in June, the culmination of two semesters of weekly sessions with a population included those without shelter, homeless Veterans, and those homeless recently discharged from the hospital in need of respite care.

Room In The Inn is a network of more than 180 congregations in Middle Tennessee that offers emergency services, transitional programs and long-term solutions to help people who live on the streets of Nashville.  During extreme weather months in winter and summer, the group also provides shelter.

Working with VUSN Assistant Professor Tom Cook, PhD, RN, and Room In The Inn’s Quianna Jimerson, the students evaluated the aggregates health-care disparities and needs. The students then applied evidence based knowledge and best practices to achieve reasonably sustainable outcomes.

“This is a high-risk population where many people have comorbidities that is much more likely to go to the emergency room for their primary health care” said student Nathan Johnson, who spearheaded the event.  “We wanted to develop some tools that would be of the greatest help in realistic situations and help put these members of our community in a position of power with their health.”

The result of their work was organized into a project that focused on addressing disparities and meeting needs.  Specifically, the students conducted a brief health assessment on each participant and transferred key pieces of information such as chronic conditions, allergies and medications to a laminated health card to better communicate and limit adverse outcomes in case of a health emergency.  Additionally, the students provided each participant with a wristband with the Room In The Inn main phone number, also in case of an emergency.

Finally, the students helped each participant fill out advanced directives which will be added to the Room In The Inn database and used in case of a situation that renders a health event participant unable to convey their health care wishes.  The process sparked much-needed conversations about who to contact in an emergency, which can be a complicated issue for homeless individuals who may not have local family or friends to help with health care decisions.

Nine VUSN students participated; students who will one day become Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners, Family Nurse Practitioners, Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners and Nurse-Midwives.

“The participants were so receptive and thoughtful.  For me, this experience will inform my practice in two ways.  It gives me practice on how to translate technical information in a user-friendly way just as I would when talking to my mom, dad, sister, brother or friend.  It also helps me be even more empathetic because we each have our own unique barriers to care,” said Johnson.

Room In The Inn client Emmett Crutcher and PreSpecialty Student Nathan Johnson work together on an advanced directive.