Published on October 17, 2019 by Sara Roman  

The Department of Health and Human Services states that 100% of St. Clair County residents live in a health professional shortage area, and the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 12,000-14,000 residents are without health insurance.

In 2018, Ida Moffett School of Nursing faculty and alumni began discussions with local nonprofit Easterseals, the city of Pell City, local businesses and Jefferson State Community College. After just eight months of planning, Easterseals Community Health Clinic opened its doors in Pell City, minimizing the health care gap for marginalized residents of St. Clair County. 

“The foundational pillars of our school are academic excellence, caring, compassion and service,” said Nena Sanders, vice provost of Samford’s College of Health Sciences and nursing school dean. “We believe we have a responsibility to cultivate nurses who are highly skilled and who have the courage and compassion to serve the underserved.” 

Today, Ida Moffett School of Nursing undergraduate students and graduate nurse practitioner students complete clinical rotations at the clinic, and many faculty members and alumni volunteer their time. “To see students, faculty and alumni serving together at a clinic like Easterseals is our school’s mission realized,” said Sanders. 

Professor Annette Hess working with nursing students in the clinic

According to Annette Hess, associate professor, clinic volunteer nurse practitioner and cofounder, the clinic is run 100% on donations and volunteerism. Nurse practitioners, physicians, pharmacists, physical therapists, social workers, counselors, wound care specialists and nonmedical volunteers, from a variety of backgrounds, work together to provide health care services to the community. 

“The Bible tells us to do unto others as you desire them do to you. We are here to make a difference in the lives of others,” said Hess. “From the cultivation of our founders, to every donated piece of equipment and furniture, the Lord has provided tenfold. We are changing the lives in this community, and they are changing ours; it’s a complete team approach.”

The clinic is not free; patients pay $20 for holistic health care. “We are a body, mind and spirit clinic providing primary health care, compassion and God’s love to the underserved,” said Hess. To qualify for services, patients cannot have health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Patient ages range from 19-64. Over the past year, more than 400 patients in St. Clair County have received health care and heard the gospel at Easterseals Community Health Clinic.

Seventy six percent of Ida Moffett School of Nursing’s current nurse practitioner students come from underserved communities.

It is the vision of the faculty that experiences like Easterseals will expose students to the service opportunities available, inspiring graduates to volunteer and possibly replicate similar charitable clinics in underserved areas.

Kelly Miles, a 2012 Bachelor of Science in Nursing alumna and current Doctor of Nursing Practice student, is completing her clinical rotations at the clinic and plans to continue volunteering after becoming a family nurse practitioner. “The patients are so grateful. It makes you want to go back,” Miles said. “At Easterseals, patients are eager to learn, and they are truly grateful for the services.”

Miles explained that some patients often have difficulty obtaining transportation in order to access health care. She has witnessed patients be afforded access to a physician, pharmacist, counselor and many other medical professionals all under one roof. Not only is the clinic a service to the community, it provides a unique interdisciplinary opportunity for the students completing rotations. According to Hess, students work alongside a variety of aspiring medical professionals from multiple universities at different places in their sequence of study.

Debbie Duke praying with a patient at the clinic.

“We are serving a population with unique needs. This experience has enhanced my awareness, knowledge and passion for serving this demographic,” said Miles. “I have been exposed to new techniques, assessments, resources and learned to utilize a specific team-based approach that provides optimum patient outcomes in a community that we know is so greatly underserved.” 

The Courage to Care

 Family nurse practitioners are growing in importance as the entire industry looks for innovations that improve outcomes while also reducing overall costs. Samford offers its FNP concentration at both the master's and doctoral level.

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Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.

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