AMEN Team and UT Austin School of Nursing Engage the Community During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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May 7, 2020
Miyong Kim, Ana Todd, Shalonda E. Horton, and Stephanie Morgan

African American Mental Health and Wellness (AMEN) team is collaborating with KAZI FM 88.7 in producing a radio series to highlight the importance of addressing mental health and physical wellness in the African American community. The monthly series will feature AMEN team members from the School of Nursing, leaders from Mt. Zion Baptist and Rehoboth Baptist churches, and community organizations who provide mental health resources and support in Travis county.

Episode 7: AMEN Team and UT Austin School of Nursing Engage the Community During the COVID-19 Pandemic

(We do not have a recorded podcast for the month of May. The article below highlights the conversation covered during Episode 7.) 

As we celebrated National Nurses Day on May 6th, 2020, Ana Todd, PhD, RN, Clinical Assistant Professor and Shalonda Horton, PhD, RN, Clinical Assistant Professor, at The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing joined Jacki Hecht to discuss how the AMEN Team and The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing are engaging the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Todd and Dr. Horton are co-investigators and community liaisons on the AMEN team.

Dr. Shalonda Horton and Dr. Ana Todd

Dr. Ana Todd kicked off the discussion describing a new needs assessment effort being conducted by Rehoboth Baptist and Mt. Zion Baptist churches, in collaboration with the AMEN team, that helps to foster connection amongst its members. The church lay health workers call congregants to understand what their most pressing needs are, if they have a support network in place, if they have access to information and if they would like a follow up call. NAMI Central Texas provides no-cost classes, support groups and education programs for people impacted by mental illness as well as their family, friends and other caregivers. Their programs address stigma reduction, suicide prevention and mental health advocacy. NAMI Central Texas offers education programs for teens and young adults and training and education opportunities for schools, workplaces, faith communities and neighborhoods.

Dr. Todd shared that lay health workers consistently say, “Church members appreciate those connections and support through these follow up calls…sometimes people just really want to talk. And that's important during these challenging times." She also noted, "Lay health workers are individuals from the churches (Rehoboth Baptist Church and Mt. Zion Baptist Church) who were interested in receiving health worker training and to help their church members in health promotion and mental health wellness. They have been trained and have done an amazing job of making these phone calls, following up and reaching out on a weekly basis to make sure church member needs are being addressed."

A KAZI caller joined the conversation to find out if "churches are interested in offering to serve as a food pick up site (providing fresh foods) instead of church members driving to big facilities (food banks) where the lines are long. Dr. Todd and Dr. Horton acknowledged churches and smaller venues are providing these types of services. A couple of organizations include:

  • Loaves and Fishes Outreach Ministry: Tuesdays only 7-8 a.m., breakfast at 8 a.m., 512-476-3589
  • Austin Reconciliation Church, Food Pantry: Wednesday only 2-5 p.m. - 7000 Cameron Rd. Austin, Texas 78752
  • Angel House / Austin Baptist Chapel: Sack breakfast from 9:30-10 a.m. and sack lunches 11 a.m-12:30 p.m. 
  • University Presbyterian Church's Micah 6 Food Pantry: Boxes of shelf-stable food available for pick up in the North courtyard Thursdays at 6:00 p.m. and Saturdays at 10:30 a.m.

Another outreach effort underway is led by a group of The University of Texas at Austin nursing students conducting conversations with the church community called "Talks with a Longhorn Nurse". Dr. Shalonda Horton shared details about the program stating, "Talks with a Longhorn Nurse" came about due to COVID-19. Each semester we have students in various clinical sites who are in public health; a group of students at Mt. Zion Baptist Church and Dr. Todd has students at Rehoboth. We needed to adjust face to face time for safety for the public and the students, so we decided to do virtual classes so we can still do health promotion and students can still meet the objective of their classes and the needs of the churches."

She went on to say, "We reached out to the church members to see what type of topics they would like to hear about. The topics ranged from COVID-19 Myth or Fact, Mental Health Promotion during a Pandemic and How to Shop and Eat Healthy during a Pandemic for adults, and for the youth (mostly teenagers) we covered COVID-19 and Growing Up with Asthma and Lung Disease, which included vaping." Dr. Horton said, "It was very interactive…culturally and age appropriate, and very creative in how do you still meet the people and meet their needs even through the pandemic." 

In honor of National Nurses Day, Jacki Hecht highlighted the tremendous work nurses are doing in various hospitals and clinical settings. She also said, “There are more quiet heroes who are working in the public health realm; nursing students and health workers, that Dr. Horton and Dr. Todd spoke about who are working out in the community...sharing great information about how to take care of ourselves and help people address the chronic conditions they are dealing with every day and how to keep their immune system up."

Dr. Horton shared how the public health course prepares nurses to do this work in the future. She said, "One simulation we do that we switched from face to face to virtual (Zoom) lecture is based off the movie, Contagion. We walk through the nurse’s role and how the nurse partners with various public health officials and leaders in the community to contain the spread of disease..."

The students express their appreciation of the new material and simulation saying, "Thank you so much Dr. Todd and Dr. Horton; I feel more prepared. Through the simulation we were able to now tie those concepts [together]." Drs. Ana Todd and Shalonda Horton are grateful the students are getting the skills they need to contribute to protecting the public. 

Dr. Todd added that the students are also certified in disaster training before they graduate.

As Texas opens up businesses new questions and concerns are raised.

Dr. Todd suggested checking in on people, especially people living alone. She emphasized, “From a public health perspective, continue to adhere to social distancing and take all precaution to keep yourself safe.”

Dr. Horton echoed her sentiment saying, "I appreciate technology because it's helped us connect via Zoom and Skype so we can have face time with our families and friends, but I think this time has also reminded us that we can connect by old school methods by picking up the phone and calling someone. This past week, I actually wrote letters and put them in the mail to people who are probably receiving bills and reminders, but it's nice to get something in the mail, a card, thinking about you…We can also reach back to those in other tangible ways to stay connected with people." 

Research shows the more we give of ourselves the better we feel and also the better we can make someone else feel.

Jacki added, “This is a time when many of us are feeling anxious and uncertain of what's going to happen in the future. One of the best ways we can manage those feelings is to think about and care for others, express some gratitude. Write down 3 things we're thankful for each day and being able to share that with somebody else. It's another way of helping us all realize that we are in this together. If we stay connected and we really support one another we will get through this the best way possible.”

Dr. Horton closed the conversation by reminding people about self-care saying, "In the helping profession we give, give, give, but we also need to make sure we pause, replenish, and rejuvenate as we continue to pour into the lives of others."

We thank Dr. Ana Todd and Dr. Shalonda Horton for sharing the great work the AMEN program is doing in the community by working in collaboration with the UT Austin Nursing students, AMEN health workers, and the church leadership at Rehoboth Baptist Church and Mt. Zion Baptist Church. This effort highlights the importance of academic departments working together with local faith-based organizations to reach out and support the community.

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