By Claire Aiello
Vice President, Marketing and Communications
Oakwood University’s new Community Health Action Center is on target to open by the first of June. This is the latest offering by the campus to serve and improve lives of students and nearby residents, and is the result of a multi-phased plan with extensive study, showing the clinic is needed.
“Our research showed many in the community suffer from health challenges that many associate with health disparities,” said Dr. Prudence Pollard, Oakwood’s Vice President for Quality, Research, and Faculty Development. “We also saw job insecurity and food insecurity. Those are related to health, especially now during COVID, with people losing jobs.”
Oakwood University and Huntsville Hospital signed a partnership agreement for the Center on February 24. Hospital staff will perform checkups and triage care, and Oakwood will support the operation in a number of ways, including through hands-on training for students in various tracts. For example, nursing students will teach cardiovascular classes, and students in nutrition and dietetics will teach sessions on food preparation. Nursing students will also do rotations to get experience in patient care, and education students will help with story hour and other teaching activities with children. There will also be a food pantry.
The school’s research shows the health center will fill other needs, besides medical care.
“We are concerned for single parents,” said Dr. Pollard. “We did analytics on zip code 35816 and households are primarily single female-headed, with income below the poverty level, and an average of three children. We know the children need afterschool care, and we also wanted to establish a weekend program to give the parent some breathing room.”
Oakwood University raised $3 million from alumni and friends of the school to fund the health center. They are working to raise $1 million more.
The Center is a new facet of Oakwood’s Healthy Campus, Healthy Community initiative. The school also operates a mobile food pantry that visits nearby neighborhoods to sell fresh fruits and vegetables at discounted prices.
“We check grocery prices, and take the low price leader in Huntsville and go below the prices 40 to 60 percent,” said Dr. Pollard. “Income is a major factor for many of the people we serve. We also accept EBT cards.”
The food truck also visits six Huntsville Housing Authority locations per week. Student health ambassadors run the truck, interacting with customers and handling sales. When the school learned they needed additional transportation support for the students, they applied to a grant program offered through BB&T, now Truist. The need was soon fulfilled.
“We plan to send four students – right now, we have two, but we’re working to onboard some more to accompany the mobile market,” said Dr. Pollard.
This phase of serving the community follows earlier work started in 2013 to put a strong focus on improving student health. Through that research, Oakwood University has implemented Healthy Campus 2020, which begins each August. Students get a biometric assessment to track and manage their own health. Some are appointed as health ambassadors, to train and encourage other students in their journeys. Several improvements have also been made throughout campus, for example, with healthier food offerings in vending machines.
This article appears in the April 2021 issue of Initiatives magazine, a publication of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.