Community Health Lab making a difference in underserved communities

By Nancy Wykle

Durham Technical Community College in June invited community partners and stakeholders to tour the Community Health Lab and learn more about its significant impact on the well-being of area residents.

The lab’s mission is twofold. It serves members of underserved communities in North Carolina who face obstacles to receiving health care because of financial barriers or a lack of access. It also provides clinical training site for students, giving them hands-on experience delivering care to individuals from a variety of backgrounds and building the emotional intelligence skills to be empathetic practitioners.

“The Community Health Lab is doing great things to improve quality of life for area residents while also creating real-world experience for future health care workers,” said Health and Wellness Dean Melissa Ockert.

Student Deb Cava, who has worked on the Community Health Lab, said she has found the mobile unit’s mission deeply meaningful. Patients have a high degree of trust with the lab workers, allowing them into their homes to receive health care.

“This is a community that needs us to go to them, so it’s very rewarding and very humbling,” she said.

Services the lab provides include vision screenings, comprehensive eye exams, and prescription eyewear, which is fitted, manufactured, and dispensed by Durham Tech’s Opticianry program. The Community Health Lab team also does home health visits, sport physicals for middle and high school students, and they provide basic health screenings such as blood pressure readings, glucose level checks, and EKGs.

Community Health Lab Coordinator Whitney Young told the more than 70 stakeholders and partnering agency representatives who came to tour the Community Health Lab that Durham Tech is one of the few community colleges in the country to have a mobile unit.

Since the Community Health Lab began operations three years ago, it has:

  • Conducted more than 1,170 eye exams
  • Provided 1,446 pairs of eyeglasses
  • Served 1,700 children and adults
  • Trained 216 students in health care
  • Trained 202 adults and youth in mental health first aid

The Community Health Lab also recently became a Teen Mental Health First Aid site.

Tricia Howard, Durham Public Schools lead nurse, said she could attest to the difference the Community Health Lab has made.

“We have a lot of students in DPS who may, for example, need eyeglasses, but their family can’t afford them,” she said. “Having this service makes our students more successful in the classroom and families are so thankful to get the care their child needs.”

It also was one of 10 mobile health units selected by Harvard Medical School to participate in the Mobile Health Innovation Collaborative, which is developing and testing ideas that will build the capacity of mobile health programs across the country.

“This program speaks to the commitment our community has to being the City of Medicine for all of our residents. It is improving lives and ensuring those most vulnerable have access to the services they need,” said Durham Board of County Commissioners Chairwoman Brenda Howerton. “The lab is a win-win for Durham and neighboring counties, ensuring people can lead healthier, more productive lives, while also ensuring the next generation of health practitioners have the necessary skills to provide superior community health services.”

The lab has more than 40 partnering agencies to identify neighborhoods that can benefit most from its services. Blue Cross Blue Shield is the sponsoring partner, who helped with acquisition of the van.

This article originally appeared here.

Nancy Wykle

is the director of marketing and communications and the public information officer at Durham Technical Community College in North Carolina.