McAuley School of Nursing partners with others to provide healthy food to homes

December 05, 2022

A Nursing student meets with a resident while participating in the McAuley School of Nursing's new partnership, Fresh Incentive Program.Detroit Mercy empowers students and faculty to integrate their intellectual, spiritual and social development. Nowhere is this more clearly on display than in the McAuley School of Nursing’s Fresh Incentive Program.

This program began when Jonetta Banks, community representative for the Fitzgerald Neighborhood, learned about a program at Eastern Market called Fresh Prescriptions. The program delivered boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables to individuals in neighborhoods who don’t have access to healthy food.

She brought the idea to Fr. Tim Hipskind, S.J., and shortly after, Fr. Hipskind brought McAuley School of Nursing Clinical Associate Professor Elaine Webber on board; she got the ball rolling.

“In order to participate in Fresh Prescriptions, we needed funding for the food that we would provide to these people,” Webber said. “Fr. Tim asked me to write a grant that would meet the needs of this community that is right in our backyard.” Funding was provided by the Ford Motor Company Fund.

The program aims to improve the health of participants of the Fitzgerald community by providing shipments of fresh fruits and vegetables right to the participant’s doors. In addition, Nursing students will be going to the participants’ homes, providing in-home healthcare services and helping them set goals for their health and wellness.

To accomplish this, Webber brought on board Karen Mihelich, assistant professor of Nursing, and chair of the graduate Nursing programs. Together, they started building a partnership.

“We pulled together with Farmacy Food, Eastern Market and Fresh Prescriptions to provide six weeks of prepared meals to the 11 participants within this pilot project,” Mihelich said. “We were able to develop a unique program that addressed some of the food insecurity issues for those who are disabled or suffering from chronic health conditions.”

Directed by their professors, students in the Doctor of Nursing Practitioner program did much of the work to design the program and carry out its implementation.

“With the help of the students and a variety of stakeholders including individuals here at the University, we pulled together with Farmacy Food and Eastern Market, and started to have some meetings to see what this project could look like in the Fitzgerald Neighborhood,” Mihelich said.

The Fresh Incentive Program serves not only to benefit the community participants, but the students as well. Webber feels this program has the potential to change how her students view public health.

“When students do community health, they are giving immunizations and participating in public health activities, but they are not really connecting with the people in the communities,” Webber said. “What is unique about this program is that students are going into individual homes, checking heart rate, blood pressure, providing support regarding their health conditions and teaching people about good nutrition and taking care of their health.

Nursing students meet to discuss the nursing partnership, Fresh Incentive Program.Among the students who worked to design and implement this partnership was Afsana Uddin ’16, ’22. She became integral to the project, working directly with the students and the Fitzgerald community members and is now adjunct clinical faculty implementing the program.

Uddin says that access to food and education about taking care of your health are the two largest barriers to eating well.

“Going into this, we thought that access to food would be a major deterrent,” Uddin said. “We are learning that education is a big part of that as well. The neighborhood itself does not have grocery stores or farmer’s markets, so they don’t have access to these resources that other communities do. It is an inconvenience to the community to have to leave and find those resources outside.”

Uddin and other students compiled the data they gathered and studied the results.

“One participant lost 10 pounds on the program,” Uddin said. “It’s interesting and heartwarming to see how, when given fresh meals, physical activity modules, education on nutrition and stress eating, you see the participants take this seriously, and get motivated to meet their health goals.”

For Mihelich, this program speaks to a higher good as well, embodied in the mission of Detroit Mercy.

“I think that we very much believe, as a Jesuit and Sisters of Mercy institution, that it is important for us to connect with our community’s vulnerable populations, demonstrate compassion and take this opportunity to actually put our mission into action,” Mihelich said. “We talk about it a lot, but how do we put it into action, and how do we demonstrate this to others.”

Everyone involved in the project hopes for it to continue in future courses, however finding funding will be the big challenge moving forward.

“Farmacy Foods and Fresh Prescriptions have been great to work with, and they have been invested in the community, but if we have the ability to establish that program long term, it would really help,” Uddin said.

The program has set up a crowdfunding page, and they are seeking additional funding from outside grants. Everyone involved is hopeful this program can continue to serve the community and do good in their own backyard.

“I would love to see it continue, and possibly incorporate culinary education aspects,” Uddin said. “Not only providing the food and fresh meals, but the education on how to prepare good food.”

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