Health & Medicine

Community nursing corps to amp up health education in low-income areas

Erica Lee from the Health Education Council speaks at a Jan. 6, 2017, kick-off event for a program sending nurses and other health services into low-income Sacramento neighborhoods.
Erica Lee from the Health Education Council speaks at a Jan. 6, 2017, kick-off event for a program sending nurses and other health services into low-income Sacramento neighborhoods. Sammy Caiola

Nurses are working with local health leaders to bring free health education directly to a city-designated “promise zone” of Sacramento’s most impoverished neighborhoods, officials announced Friday during a kickoff of the community nursing program.

The corridor of struggling neighborhoods stretching from Del Paso Heights down to Florin Road will receive federal funding over the next 10 years to improve health, schooling and employment opportunities. Starting this month, they’ll also receive education on diabetes, prenatal care and healthy life choices from a new community nursing corps.

Kortney Lucero, an assistant nurse manager, found out Friday that she’ll be paired with La Familia Counseling Center, an organization providing health counseling and insurance assistance to low-income families. She said she’s excited to share her knowledge about pregnancy care and breastfeeding with families who might not be getting the information because they aren’t well connected to the health system.

“This is the place to be for people on Medi-Cal,” Lucero said. “They need the preventative care and the education. Education is the key.”

The 12 nurses participating in the program are all Kaiser Permanente employees and students at Samuel Merritt University, an Oakland-based school with a Sacramento satellite site. As part of their coursework this year, they’ll spend 45 hours per semester assisting nonprofit organizations such as La Familia, the Health Education Council, WellSpace Health and Urban Strategies as they reach out to the city’s most vulnerable populations at clinics, schools and housing complexes.

At the Health Education Council, a group that brings fitness and nutrition programming to low-income school districts, nurses Ramon Mata and Jennifer Dunning will work with children and parents on obesity education and healthy meal planning.

Mata spends most of his work time on the phone counseling adult diabetes patients. He said he’s ready to nip the problem early in children.

“I can show them what a healthy plate looks like, how to read labels properly, and prevent them from becoming my patients down the line,” he said.

In Sacramento, diabetes mortality and hypertension prevalence are highest in the low-income and largely nonwhite neighborhoods of Meadowview, Parkway and Florin in south Sacramento, according to a 2014 county health department report. Much of that area falls within the promise zone boundaries.

The 22-mile area received the competitive federal “promise zone” designation in April 2015, after then-mayor Kevin Johnson pushed the city to apply for it. The designation did not come with funding, but it does give organizations within the area an advantage when applying for federal community-building grants.

So far, organizations within the zone have received roughly $50 million in federal funding to expand job programs, anti-gang initiatives, farmers markets, academic programs and more. The Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency works with more than 30 groups to coordinate the resources.

Samuel Merritt University has been working with the agency for months now to get the nurse corps together, said Alice Vestergaard, instructor and public health coordinator for the school.

“It’s a natural collaboration to join with the promise zone and their community partners so we can better the health and welfare of the Sacramento region in general,” Vestergaard said.

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola

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