The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Community/University Health Care Initiatives--Delta State U. & Ole Miss, 2012

Posted on July 02, 2012 at 12:42 PM

There are many community-based health care initiatives being conducted in the Greater Delta Region. Here we would like to convey summaries of the presentations from Albert Nylander of Delta State University and John Green of the University of Mississippi at the May 4 Delta conference at the Clinton Library.

Albert Nylander is Dean of Graduate Studies and Continuing Education, as well as professor of sociology and community development at Delta State University, home of the “Fighting Okra” footbal and basketball teams (FEAR THE OKRA!!).

John Green is Director of the Center for Population Studies, Director of the Institute for Community-Based Research, and professor of Sociology at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.

The presentations by Nylander and Green often emphasized constructive preventive health behavior, following up in a broad sense on the panels on nutrition at the conference, but including a wide range of community/university collaborations in the health care field.

In the field of health, Delta State University is working on a series of initiatives, including some graduate programs that have been implemented. A few years back, the university began partnering with Blue Cross and Blue Shield to start a Healthy Campus and Community Iniitaitve to provide constructive models and institutionalize practices of healthy behavior.

This initiative was operated on grant funding by the College of Education analyzing predictors of healthy behavior. A 2009 survey of the university students in addition to conducting focus groups in the Delta received evaluations from Professor Green of Ole Miss and contributed to the successes of this program. As an institution, Nylander said Delta State has become a champion of health for its 4,000 students, most of whom are from Mississippi but also including some from Arkansas. They have put in a fitness trail and a number of other programs that are free for the community.

The university started fitness classes including X-Fit, Zumba and other free activities for students that promote healthy behavior. They have a weigh-in every week so students can keep track of their weight. There is a free summer camp that has become so popular that it’s necessary to sign up on the first day, because they quickly enroll 200 to 300 kids. This includes many under-privileged, minority students who would otherwise not be able to go to a summer camp.

Nylander said that in changing from traditional patterns of behavior to much more healthy behavior, it will require “a multi-state effort to tackle historical processes embedded in the social structure.”

The university’s innovations include a bachelor’s degree in outdoor recreation, and Nylander said they have seen students becoming interested in that program. There are graduate programs working with the College of Education and School of Arts and Sciences, including a Master’s of Science in sports and human performance, and programs concentrating on exercise science.

Delta State will offer a doctorate of nursing practice starting next year, focusing on the health care delivery system as a whole. A new feature the Delta State program will have is the RN to DNP (Doctorate of Nursing Practice) program where they will in the first year get a bachelor’s degree and then an RN can move on to the DNP. Nylander said it is crucial to have educated health care professionals based in the Delta.

“Let’s keep Delta people at home,” Nylander said, emphasizing that students can get an advanced degrtee in the heart of the Delta. We can create our own professionals and entrepreneurs at home in the Delta.

Nylander is a Greenwood, Mississippi native, and he cited the example of the Viking company that began in Greenwood but is now so successful that it could be based anywhere; but their ownership said they are keeping the headquarters in Greenwood because the Delta is home.

The key concept to focus on is what programs can we offer for our Delta kids to allow them to advance professionally and keep living in the Delta, where the quality of life and the rewards of working at home are great attractions for many of our young people.

In addition to discussing health care initiatives, Dean Nylander also followed up on a panel led by President Fitzgerald Hill of Arkansas Baptist College on literacy issues. In referring to President Hill’s motivational speaking style, he said Hill had “fired you up” to do more in fighting illiteracy in the region. He said the problem is not just high school students who are struggling with reading, but transfer college students. He recalled that a couple of years earlier, a professor advised him that some transfers who were on the DSU basketball team really needed help with their reading.

At that time they were reading at a third grade level, but Dean Nylander and his partners worked with them intensively and brought them up to a level where they have advanced to a junior year in college. Nylander also reminded the group that writing skills are equally important, and that in some cases those who can read adequately still lack the ability to write; so progress in both those areas is seriously needed.

Professor John Green is Director of the Center for Population Studies and Director of the Institute for Community-Based Research at the University of Mississippi. He was previously at Delta State, so the fearless battle cry of FEAR THE OKRA!! rang out once again in the Great Hall of the Clinton Library at the beginning of his presentation.

Green said that his center does a great deal of research and statistical analysis, but also works closely with community development organizations, especially groups based on local communities. His entity houses the state data center for the state of Mississippi and serves as liaison with the Census Bureau. They provide education and technical assistance for use of census research and other types of secondary data.

Green’s center also houses the Institute for Community-Based Research, a multi-institutional collaboration started at Delta State and now including many other partners on a state-wide level that will in turn work with many national organizations. This summer the institute will start housing the Journal of Community Development, which is a development notable on a regional scale. This journal will draw attention to national and even international community development experts that the Delta is a leader in community development best practices.

While much of Green’s work involves keeping track of the dire statistics on the Delta’s health problems–and he acknowledged the familiar reality that the data are staggering for our region on a range of issues including poor birth outcomes, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other health problems–but he focused his Clinton Library presentation on solutions. On a national basis, with high costs, an aging population, nursing and primary care physicians shortages, it is a difficult situation; in the Delta it is even worse because of the rural nature of the region and our high poverty rates. But it is not overwhelming and there are progressive activities underway to address these issues.

Green said that in addition to K-12, higher education, and such initiatives as the nursing program at Delta State, it is beneficial to expand collaboration with community based organizations, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, community health centers and their regional, national and international networks. Green’s center utilizes evidence-based, real world, field-tested experience.

One example is a program in the heart of the Mississippi Delta in Bolivar, Coahoma, and quitman Counties–the Tri-County Workforce Alliance that engages youth to improve academic skills and learn about health career opportunities. This program began at the high school level and is now expanding to the middle school level. Students participate in a wide variety of activities such as field trips, worshops and a summer institute. The middle school students became involved in health disparity studies working with their families and people in their communities, learning about diseases while serving people who had those diseases. The high school students engaged in mentoring and job shadowing, serving three hours a week for seven months.

Collaborative work of the Mississippi Office of Nursing Workforce and the Dreyfuss Health Foundation involved students at community colleges and bachelor level programs to promote nursing education, career ladder advancement and community services centered around health. This initiative combines traditional education with advances such as dual enrollment services and dedicated educational units. This joins what community-based organizations have to offer to what universities and colleges have to offer, with the result being that students are offered opportunities that are “state of the art.”

Students have been exposed to problem solving for better health methodology with community engagement, connecting the classroom to the community. This program has become an international demonstration project, as the Mississippi leaders are working with US-affiliated Pacific Islands to help their schools of nursing across multiple jurisdictions to use the Mississippi model.

Shortly after the May Clinton Library meeting, Green traveled to Guam for planning meetings of the Partners Investing in Nursing (PIN) project between the Dreyfus Health Foundation and the Pacific Island PIN group (PINNED). Professor Green’s group made a presentation to the Pacific Island Health Organizations Association (PIHOA).

PIHOA utilizes a regionalism approach to organizing for health in the US Affiliated Pacific Islands. Although these are island territories and freely associated states, there are numerous similarities between the health issues they are trying to address and those we face in the Delta, Green said. This is especially the case around non-communicable diseases. There is also a major concern around the public health impacts of global climate change. As islands, they are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, and at the same time they are confronting issues touching us on the mainland, like flooding, drought, salinization, and species loss.

The Delta Caucus commends these efforts to share information and best practices across regional and even global areas, and the fact that the Mississippi model is being utilized as far away as the Pacific Islands is clearly a tribute to their innovations.

In his Clinton Library presentation, Green also cited the School-Based Asthma Management project operated through the DSU Community and Economic Development Center, which receives funding from the Centers for Disease Control. This program works with school nurses and health organizations to provide education and training to supplement offerings through the school and better serve kids with asthma.

Green said that in the three examples he cited, his involvement along with other partners was through conducting evaluations using community-based action research strategies. Learning what works, what doesn’t, and what changes will be needed are crucial in the changes that will be needed to serve more people. He said that he had evaluated 30 to 50 programs and these three stood out more than any others in terms of outcomes, their potential.

Extensive focus groups verified the success of the programs. Among the results: a group of kids in Clarksdale, Mississippi actually asked for more summer school. In another example, a parent whose daughter became engaged in the project became so interested in health that they went back to nursing school.

Green and his partners focus on creating a career path from middle school to college and to get additional counties involved. They are working with Aaron Henry Community Health Center to provide these services to employees at health centers. The goal is to prepare employees at all levels to better serve patients and the community on these pressing health issues.

Green concluded that these programs have been successes, relying upon serious and thoughtful evaluation. Now these initiatives are crossing organizational boundaries to take programs to a new level. He said it is imperative that we work to assist these types of community-based efforts through the Delta region, including assistance through the advocacy work of organizations like the Delta Caucus.

Additional facts on The Center for Population Studies: The Center for Population Studies educates, conducts research, and engages in public outreach concerning population issues. It works in collaboration with the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and numerous other partners within The University of Mississippi and beyond, including colleges/universities, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies.

Among its programmatic initiatives, the CPS is the lead agency for the State Data Center for Mississippi, a joint program of the U.S. Census Bureau and the State. In this capacity, the CPS distributes census and related data, provides instruction on data analysis, and serves as the liaison between the Bureau of the Census and the users of census and related data. Also housed within the CPS, the Institute for Community-Based Research provides an avenue through which students are able to collaborate with faculty and nonprofit organizations to engage in timely and meaningful research.

INSTITUTE FOR COMMUNITY-BASED RESEARCH Started in 2003, the Institute for Community-Based Research (ICBR) is a consortium of individuals and organizations collaborating to inform social change and development through applied, action-oriented research. The ICBR works with people demonstrating a commitment to active partnerships for seeking solutions to community and regional issues of concern.

Activities of the ICBR entail: –Sharing information on social research methods and results of relevance to community work. –Serving as a hub in the network between community groups, larger area nonprofit associations, funders, government agencies and educational/research institutions. –Developing and strengthening the research and outreach skills of college/university students and faculty in doing community work.

Engaging community groups and assisting them with their research needs, including: Capacity building; Education and training; and Technical assistance with research design, methods of inquiry, data analysis and reporting.

The ICBR originated from the endeavors of faculty and graduate students associated with the Delta State University Division of Social Sciences and History and the Center for Community and Economic Development. In partnership with nonprofit organizations, foundations and several colleges/universities, the ICBR built a strong track record and grew substantially in scope and scale.

Based on its success and the high demand for these services, the ICBR now operates in the form of a multi-organizational collaborative association. It is housed within the Center for Population Studies at The University of Mississippi, and it includes strong partnerships with other organizations at the statewide, regional, national and international levels.

Websites: University of Mississippi Center for Population Studies - Institute for Community-Based Research -