By Sean Hennessey
Nursing students Claire Johanna and Jenna Murray sat down on a couch in the tidy Charlestown apartment, eagerly awaiting the entrance of Lena Doherty, one of several clients to be examined as part of the monthly home visit program from the MGH Institute of Health Professions’ Ruth Sleeper Center for Clinical Education and Wellness.
“Good morning,” said Doherty, a spry 81-year-old who lives in the Robert A. Georgine Towers on Ferrin Street, a publicly supporting housing community for seniors.
“Good morning,” replied Johanna and Murray, who are part of an outreach rotation for the Sleeper Center, a student-led clinical learning environment that provides free health resources to community clients.
It was the students’ first-time meeting Doherty, so they began by explaining that they were going to do, a thorough health history interview to determine Doherty’s health, and that would dictate how the rest of the visit would go and what kind of attention the senior might need.
Using equipment made possible through a grant from the MGH Nurses Alumni Association, the students went to work.
Along with apartment visits, the Sleeper Center is leveraging a $3,000 grant from the MGH Nurses Alumni Association to establish a more permanent presence at the Ferrin Street senior housing tower. A wellness program is now up and running. Situated in the corner of the community room are supplies students will need for their visits – nurse’s bags, O2 sat monitors, stethoscopes, and blood pressure monitors. There’s also space where residents can meet with a nurse – a reminder of the Sleeper Center’s presence.
The outreach is typical of how the Sleeper Center is making a difference and expanding beyond the four walls of the Sanders IMPACT Practice Center in the Charlestown Navy Yard.
“It’s important to get out into the community and bring our services to them,” said Dr. Kathy Sabo, Director of the Sleeper Center. “These home visits really give our students a clear picture of what it means to be a community dwelling individual who has one or two chronic illness and a low income to manage everything that’s going on related to their health.”.
Assessing in the Navy Yard
Enhancing the healthcare of Charlestown and Greater Boston residents – for free – has been the primary focus of the Sleeper Center since its inception in 2018. Support services are provided by IHP nurse practitioner students and are supervised by licensed nursing faculty. The Center specializes in helping clients with chronic illnesses – diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, arthritis and those who have suffered a stroke.
“This is a real special place, it’s like a diamond in the rough,” said Lisa A. Sims, a stroke survivor with diabetes and other chronic diagnoses who has been coming to the Sleeper Center for about five years. “I really feel like for that hour I have their full attention. And I really feel that when I’m talking, they’re listening.”
“Clients who need a little bit more care, those who either can’t afford to see their PCP every single week, or if their PCP is too busy, for them, going to the Sleeper Center is a stop gap,” said MGH Institute student Brian Tong. “The students make sure the medications are all up to date and see if there are any new issues.”
The Sleeper Center sees about 50 clients a year who receive either mental health supportive counseling, primary care, or both. The Center is looking to expand its capacity; more clients will mean more students can participate in the lessons learned there.
Something that will help the Center attract more clients is interpreter services, which will be paid for by another $3,000 grant it received from the MGH Nurses Alumni Association.
“If we’re reaching out to clients of different cultural and language needs, we need to communicate, and right now those are services we currently do not have,” said Sabo. “This will provide some funding to do that. Whether we’re going to another site in the community, or having clients coming in who need interpreter services, we’ll be able to say, ‘Yes, we have that available.