Bridges Health Winona, a WSU student-led, faculty-guided, interprofessional and free community wellness clinic that provides holistic healthcare to populations in need throughout the Winona area, is changing things up in the battle against COVID-19.

 

At Bridges, you would traditionally find undergraduate and graduate level majors from Winona State nursing, social work and public health programs offering a myriad of services in a face-to-face format. Under faculty supervision, students get experience providing health screenings, primary care services, and heart health, as well as health and wellness programming and lifestyle coaching – no insurance required. But when COVID-19 emerged as a public health threat, the students and faculty involved came together to map out the necessary logistical steps to transition Bridges’ services online.

 

Bridges Director and WSU Assistant Professor of Nursing Jennifer Timm says that multiple interprofessional academic programs, graduate and undergraduate-level, have led the virtual effort to provide seamless outreach in partnership with their existing community collaborators such as Volunteer Services, the Warming and Friendship Centers in Winona, the Welcome Room in Arcadia, and the Cochrane-Fountain City Public Schools.

 

Timm explains that all involved were concerned for the holistic health of their clients and families as the COVID-19 situation began to unfold. Used to interacting on a regular basis with one another, main concerns were about the effects of prolonged isolation such as hopelessness, depression and anxiety. Timm adds that “the landscape of how a pandemic imparts people on a broad basis; their overall mental well-being is at risk due to a feeling of loss of control.”

 

The team moved ahead with shifting their programming online, both for youth and adult clientele. Youth wellness services that are now provided remotely include daily check-ins, meditation, oral hygiene checks, health-related question and answer time, physical activities, story time and opportunities to help with schoolwork, among others. “Goals are to help get the kids grounded for the day and then deliver programming,” says Timm.

 

 

Programming for adults looks similar in structure, aimed at keeping clients and individuals mentally engaged and physically active. Offerings include mindfulness meditations, “Tea Talks” twice a day with group discussions, book clubs, healthy cooking information and a social hour.

 

Timm advises that the remote delivery of regular programming was soft-launched the first week back from WSU’s extended spring break at the end of March, with the full launch happening one week later. She says that a core goal is to keep people communicating, which helps everyone involved. She also recognizes the inherent educational value of virtual delivery, saying that “students are teaching and reaching remotely, but it is real connection with people on the front lines. And they are shining.”

 

Practicum students also recognize that the experience they are getting of delivering virtual services during a healthcare crisis is invaluable for their growth and development as people, students, and future healthcare professionals.

 

Graduate Nursing Student Elizabeth Green, team lead at the Winona Friendship Center and Food Shelf, says she and her teammates are still able to fulfill Bridges’ mission of providing holistic wellness outreach for the community. “Just because we can no longer be out in the community doesn’t mean we still can’t serve,” she says. “We can still provide education, exercise, socialization and so much more to our community members to help during this stressful time.”

 

Green is already keenly aware of the impact this will have on her future. “I feel that I am more prepared now in my career during this time. The healthcare field…we always are changing and adapting to our surroundings. Bridges took this as a new change and adapted very quickly. This experience has shown me hope and unification during a crisis when everyone is fearful. I am beyond thankful to join such a strong group of people who all have one common goal, which is to help others in any way we can.”

 

Abby Jumbeck ’13, another lead graduate nursing student, echoes Green’s sentiment, saying, “The teamwork and dedication among faculty and students has been amazing. It is truly all people who want to serve a greater purpose and help someone in need.”

 

She further notes that education, exercise and socialization are key pathways of holistic community wellness and foresees telehealth being used more widely in the future. “Whether it is communication with patients, providing services and socialization to the community, or healthcare team members collaborating with one another, technology is proving we can all stay in touch with one another. We can still take care of one another, even when we can’t be physically near one another. And I think that’s pretty amazing.”

 

Timm, who has served as the program director since its inception, says that she has never felt as close to the team as she does now. “We are in this together,” she says. And even though the virus continues to spread not only in number but in resultant pressure and uncertainty, Timm is able to see bright spots along the way. “There are so many positives happening here, so much innovation, such raw, deeper-level learning taking place.”

 

In looking to the future, Timm predicts that this experience will have a long-term impact on her students. When they have a chance to take a breath, look back and realize just “how powerful this was for them and for their learning.”

 

 

Services and support for Bridges Health Winona are provided through collaborative efforts of Winona State University, Neighborhood Family Clinics, Live Well Winona, and the Winona State University Foundation. For more information on Bridges Health Winona and its services, visit bridgeshealthwinona.org.

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