UT Nursing Professors Aim to Prepare Appalachian Region for the Worst

In Clay County, Kentucky, flooding or ice frequently blocks access to emergency services. If a tornado hit the area, shelter would also be hard to find.

A group of UT faculty members and students is trying to change this situation.

Nursing professors in the Global Disaster Nursing program are working with architecture and environmental engineering professors, law enforcement professionals, graduate students, and Clay County community partners to improve the area’s community wellness and disaster preparedness.

The project is made possible through a $1.5 million grant over three years from the US Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

Through a constant flow of communication between the project group and community members, the group will identify, evaluate, and address the health and disaster readiness needs of Clay County.

“This project launches a new nursing model for the nation,” said College of Nursing Dean Victoria Niederhauser. “What makes it truly unique is that it brings together disciplines that rarely work together and integrates the varied skills with planning and knowledge sharing with community members.”

Clay County is an isolated area ranked 119th out of 120 Kentucky counties on major health indicators. Much of the population is ill-equipped to deal with a disaster because of poor housing, few shelters, inadequate sanitation, limited public resources, poverty, and lack of disaster education and essential reserves of food and water.

“The link between wellness and the capacity of communities to recover from disaster is clear,” said Susan Speraw, the project lead and coordinator of UT’s Global Disaster Nursing graduate program. “With Clay County partners as members of the team, this project can result in significant positive change and increase the community’s ability to be resilient in the face of disaster or public health emergency.”

At the same time, the project will train a new generation of professionals to work together to achieve the best possible outcome.

“The collaboration with the nursing program is a fantastic example of how creativity works,” said J. David Matthews, Interior Design program chair. “By bringing together two very different disciplines, we can build amazing new design ideas that cannot be realized independently.”

“We look forward to providing input on reducing the safety concerns of the hospital including potential threats and access issues,” said Don Green, executive director of UT’s Law Enforcement Innovation Center.

Over three years, the group aims to have a comprehensive assessment of the community’s health status, living conditions, and disaster readiness and vulnerability; an enhancement of overall wellness, including structural safety of homes and buildings; and the development of a community that has sufficient disaster preparedness training and resources. The project members will write grants to pay for costly updates and work with UT students and volunteers to implement solutions.

“Flooding in Clay County this year was devastating—compromising homes, health, safety, and sanitation,” said Tracy Nolan, director of community outreach at Red Bird Mission. “With UT’s help and knowledge of best practices, we will identify innovative solutions to local issues, never before attainable.”

“Emergency management is about preparing for uncertainty, and we are so excited to have the additional resources made possible through this grant,” said David Watson, emergency management director for Clay County and executive director of Manchester Memorial Hospital.

Participants include nursing professors Susan Speraw, Moriah McArthur, and Mary Nypaver; architecture and design professors John McRae and J. David Matthews; John Schwartz, environmental engineering professor; Don Green from the UT Law Enforcement Innovation Center; graduate students; the UT Institute for Assessment and Evaluation; and two Clay County community partners, Red Bird Mission and Clay County Emergency Management.

C O N T A C T :

Susan Speraw (865-974-7586, ssperaw@utk.edu)

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460, wheins@utk.edu)

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