USDA makes second grant to Southeastern to support health coaching program

Monday, September 12, 2016 Alliance
by: Rene Abadie

HEALTH GRANT AWARDED -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded a $646,482 grant to Southeastern Louisiana University and its partner North Oaks Health System to support a health coaching system designed to reduce hospital readmissions among at risk patients. Pictured are, from left, Sam Rikers, administrator of the USDA Rural Development Business Cooperative Service; Ann Carruth, dean of the Southeastern College of Nursing and Health Sciences; James E. Cathey Jr., North Oaks president and chief executive officer; Michele Sutton, North Oaks executive vice president; and Clarence W. Hawkins, director of Louisiana USDA Rural Development.

     HAMMOND - A two-year $646,482 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will continue to provide authentic field experiences for Southeastern Louisiana University students, while at the same time increasing the quality of life for area residents. The funding will allow Southeastern and its partners, including North Oaks Health System, to expand a highly successful health coaching program that has reduced hospital readmission rates by 72 percent among at risk patients since its inception two years ago.
    Provided through the Delta Health Care Grant program, the grant will support the Health Transition Alliance, a partnership involving the Southeastern College of Nursing and Health Sciences and North Oaks Health System which was established in 2014. At that time, the work of Southeastern health coach interns collaborating with the Alliance was supported by a grant of more than $350,000 from the USDA. It focused on the preparation of students to work as health coaches for recently-discharged patients, and has seen success rates higher than those previously recorded with similar programs across the nation.
    “This project has been a ‘win-win’ for all involved,” said Southeastern President John L. Crain. “We’ve heard amazing success stories on health care in our community from the first grant. We’re proud of what the university and our partner North Oaks are doing to serve the health care needs of our region.”
USDA Rural Development Business Cooperative Service Administrator Sam Rikkers said Delta Health Care Grants such as this are designed to improve access to health care services in rural areas, where health is most compromised and challenged and providers are not as readily available.
    Ann Carruth, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences and principal investigator for the grant, said Louisiana has many health challenges, including a near 35 percent obesity rate, high rates of diabetes and heart disease and is ranked 48th in infant mortality and 47th in preventable hospitalizations.
    North Oaks’ Health Transition Alliance is a health system-wide, physician-led interdisciplinary program to help recently discharged patients better manage care in hopes of  reducing hospital readmissions. Southeastern students from the health education and promotion program serve as health coach interns and participate in helping patients achieve post-discharge goals by following physicians’ instructions for home care, taking medications appropriately, following a prescribed diet and using appropriate therapies, and scheduling follow up visits with their physicians.
    “Health coaches are being used to change behaviors, and this can be the single hardest thing people try to do,” Carruth said. “Our health coaches are learning that some patients simply don’t have the resources to make health choices, so we try to work with the clients on that. Patients also will tell students things about their lives and their health that they will not tell to a physician or nurse. That’s an important insight into their care.”
    Initiated in 2014, the pilot program has yielded impressive results, Carruth reported. More than 45 student health coaches have been trained, and 65 high risk patients discharged from the hospital have received health coaching.
    “We’ve seen readmission rates among at risk patients decrease by 72 percent and a significant decrease in emergency hospital visits as well,” she added. “I have not found any other program demonstrating that kind of success.”
    “The reduced readmission rates and visits to the emergency department are important,” said James E. Cathey Jr., North Oaks president and chief executive officer. “But that is minor compared with how these health coaches have impacted people and their lives. They are making a real difference in the new world of health care.”

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