UCM Nurses Make Impact with Hygiene Education, Gift Packs for CPS Students

Ashley Kowalski, BSN, RN, from left, Brooke Thornton, BSNPhoto by Victor Powell

Ashley Kowalski, BSN, RN, from left, Brooke Thornton, BSN, RN, Donna Kahn, BSN, RN, Crystal Ward, BSN, RN, participate in Nursing Shared Governance’s hygiene education project between UCM and Chicago Public Schools. Photo by Bruce Powell

For pediatric emergency room nurse Sondra King, BSN, RN, addressing the health and safety concerns of adolescents from South Side communities is familiar territory. But, when she heard about an opportunity to reach this population beyond the Comer ED, she didn’t hesitate.

“When they said it would help children, that was enough for me,” said King.

King was one of 16 nurses who stepped forward to deliver essential tips and tools of good personal hygiene to more than 355 8th graders from Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Network 12, a cluster of a dozen schools across the city’s southeast. The event hosted by Arnold Mireles Academy on January 27, was the culmination of one of UChicago Medicine’s largest, most successful Nursing-led community outreach initiatives to date.

In November, Nursing’s Shared Governance’s (SG) holiday fundraising project raised more than $5,400 toward personal hygiene packs for South Side teens and helped to strengthen the longstanding relationship with CPS established through the Comer Children’s Hospital Pediatric Mobile Medical Unit.

“This has turned out to be more successful than we could have ever imagined,” said Donna Kahn, BSN, RN, Nursing Practice Council (NPC) Chair. “I’m thrilled that so many people stepped up to make this happen. The council felt strongly that we needed to find new ways for nurses at all levels to be engaged in the community. We worked together to make the right connections and identify the greatest community needs.”

When asked, CPS administrators surveyed their Network 12 grade school principals who pointed to education around hygiene as an ideal opportunity for nurses to have an impact.  For tweens and teens, quickly evolving bodies and issues transitioning to self-care, can be compounded by challenges accessing basic personal care needs. Such barriers have been linked to unhealthy behaviors and even bullying. Because 8th graders will soon head to high school, they were identified as the ideal group to receive the education and hygiene kits.

As part of a Healthy Lifestyle program, students were divided by gender and rotated through three half-hour sessions: self-care (hygiene), emotional well-being, healthy eating.  The female UCM nurses presented the self-care module to the girls and four male UCM nurses lead the discussion with boys.

Click on a photo to launch a slide show. All photos by Bruce Powell.

Both groups covered the basics on proper hand washing, oral care, hair care, skin care and genital hygiene, using the products purchased through the nursing fundraiser as props. The nurses stressed the importance of personal cleanliness not only to maintain a healthy self-image, but as the most important factor in preventing the spread of infections.

In addition to heightened awareness, each student left the experience with a self-care kit chock full of soap, shampoo, oral care products, deodorant, lotion, and other personal hygiene essentials, made possible with the help of community partner Walgreens.

Evan Skinner, BSN, RN, said the event was a valuable opportunity to reach children at a critical point in their lives.

“It’s rewarding,” said Skinner. “Schools are obviously ideal settings to reach kids and help them establish healthy behaviors that prevent them from getting sick. Too often the focus is on disease management versus preventive health care.”

Fellow volunteer educator John Jacob Kutty, BNS, RN agrees.

“Having male nurses here allowed the guys to open up more about hygiene without feeling uncomfortable,” said Kutty. “It was definitely worth our time. But more importantly, I hope our time was worthy for them and they make good use of all the products.”

For the Comer Mobile Medical Unit team, having the additional resources and support from their Nursing colleagues in their ongoing school-based efforts is exciting and encouraging.

“We’re ecstatic,” said Pamela Beauduy, APN, RN, a nurse practitioner on the mobile unit. “We’ve been doing this work for many years, and now having more nurses on board is wonderful. The hygiene presentation is by far our most requested education tool. We’re hopeful that this will allow us to enable many more children to make healthy choices.”

As one of the strongest supporters to this milestone effort, Magnet Program Director Kathy Pischke-Winn, MS, MBA, RN, is hopeful the momentum continues.

“This is the work of nurses,” said Pischke-Winn. “It’s a seamless fit with our strategic plan around population health. An effective health promotion model is about keeping people healthy and out of hospitals – caring for communities to drive improved outcomes. This program hits that target.”

For more information on community outreach opportunities contact a NPC Chair or UBC Chair.

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