Generally speaking, Northwest Indiana residents are less healthy than the nation as a whole on a variety of standard measures: death rates, infant mortality, physical activity, weight, tobacco use, binge drinking and teenage births.
The major causes of death in our region are cardiovascular disease, cancer, lower respiratory disease, diabetes and kidney disease. This fairly grim picture is countered somewhat by the fact that during the past decade we have seen slight improvements in our statistics.
Indiana has not been particularly effective at dealing with public health problems as a matter of public policy. The inability of our state Legislature to adopt a smoking ban and the defunding of Planned Parenthood are two examples of framing public health issues in terms of individual personal responsibility. As a result, the burden of ill health shifts from prevention to cure and falls to the local system of hospitals and clinics to tackle. The Quality Indicators report calls on our regional health agencies and universities to help deal with these issues.
As a university with a nursing school, Purdue Calumet has shouldered some of the challenge of community health care through the nursing senior capstone experiential learning course.
Since 2008, Purdue Calumet has required its students to take two designated experiential learning courses that integrate what is learned in the classroom with the kind of work that the students will have after graduation. The School of Nursing embraced this requirement by redesigning its senior capstone course as an action-oriented health-improvement experience for teams of nursing seniors.
In the past three years, nursing students have completed more than 80 capstone projects. Many of these projects were designed to improve the safety of the hospital experience for patients, and some have been adapted statewide. For example, projects have dealt with reducing hospital-related secondary medical problems (pressure ulcers), improving the frequency of hand-washing by hospital personnel, reducing incidents of patient falls and tracking medications more effectively.
Other projects have focused on improving communication with patients. For example, a number of capstone teams have worked on a way to prompt patient feedback for hospitals. Others have redesigned health information brochures in very simple, nontechnical language that makes them easier to read. Yet other groups have researched the best practices for managing recovery from diseases and have developed protocols for use in local hospitals.
Finally, some of the student teams have worked directly on our major regional health problems. A few teams have developed smoking cessation programs and advocated for smoking bans -- including at Purdue Calumet. Others have designed protocols for dealing with alcohol and substance abuse.
Experiential learning teams are an incredible community resource. Energetic and enthusiastic students select projects that can make a difference in health improvement and carry them out as part of their nursing education. These projects are invited by regional health care agencies, the Northwest Indiana Patient Safety Coalition, and the Indiana Patient Safety Coalition and are evaluated by agency personnel and Purdue Calumet faculty for their quality and effectiveness.
What our students are learning is that we can't wait for someone else to "fix" our region's health. We all will need to step up and make better health an issue if we are to improve our quality of life.
Howard Cohen is chancellor of Purdue University Calumet. The opinions are the writer's.