UM-Flint Physical Therapy and Health Education students will be spending some of their Fridays in the basement of the Father John Blasko Center. Besides being the location for the North End Soup Kitchen (NESK), it is now the new home of PTHEART.
The name PTHEART is an acronym for Physical Therapy, Health, Education, and Rehabilitation Treatment. It is a unique student-led organization and the only one on campus to be sponsored by the university. The group operates a pro bono clinic adjacent to NESK to provide physical therapy and health education to the uninsured and underinsured in Genesee County. It focuses on those adults who would otherwise not have access to these services. When the clinic is in operation, a faculty member or licensed community practitioner is present.
The concept of PTHEART has been discussed in the PT department for a number of years, but it was in the last few that the idea took form. PT and health education students attended a conference in late 2010 about pro bono clinics that instilled in them a desire to get involved.
"It was a very inspirational experience to see what other students around the country were doing," said PT student Anna Kilbourn.
"The students were having an actual impact on their communities," noted PT student Kayle Fredrickson. "They were providing services like fitting people for canes. They had partnerships with other health groups."
Before PTHEART could start beating, a location would have to be determined and a health needs survey of people in that area would have to be taken.
The NESK location was selected because the majority of the people who use it go there daily, and they are comfortable with the location. "We learned that the community will have a better response when you go to them," said Kilbourn. "At the soup kitchen, transportation is not a barrier."
According to government statistics, Genesee County has a large number of uninsured residents, more than 13%. It also has a higher mortality rate for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke compared to the rest of the state and nation. A final statistic for establishing a pro bono clinic comes from the 2007 U.S. Census that indicated that in Genesee County nearly 122,000 individuals were classified as 200% below the poverty level.
A study of individuals who use the NESK found the location was a perfect fit for the clinic. More than 82% reported pain six or more days a week. Most of those people had trouble managing the pain, and they would take advantage of physical therapy services or attend physical therapy sessions if they were offered. Over half indicated they wanted more information on eating healthy, controlling blood sugar, keeping their homes safe, and information on mental health and addiction problems.
"This clinic gives us the opportunity to do one-on-one health screening, a more personal approach," said health education student Debby Jones. "The people are asking a variety of questions ranging from health issues to how to return to school."
Assistant Clinical Professor Edgar Torres is the faculty advisor to the organization. He said the response from other community organizations to PTHEART has been very positive.
"A few weeks ago, Rema Kudish M.D., director of the Genesee Free Medical Clinic expressed an interest in working with the group," said Torres. "With PTHEART we wanted to empower our students to create this structure and run with it."