Learning center perfect for community outreach

Mall location reaches with timely health topics

A lack of space at the medical center for ancillary programs is one reason the learning center for Saint Francis Medical Center in Grand Island, NE, ended up at the local mall. The fact that 3.2 million people visit the mall annually, making it possible for the medical center to reach a larger population made the off-campus location even more enticing.

"We thought we would draw from a bigger area, not just our immediate city, but rural Nebraska, exposing more people to some of the services we have at our medical center through Wellness Works at the mall," says Doreen Foland, RD, manager of Wellness Works Por Su Salud (For Your Health).

The name is meant to attract Spanish-speaking people; in fact, two of the center’s goals are to serve the Hispanic population and target women’s health. One staff member was a physician in Colombia, and although she is not licensed to practice in the United States, she can teach classes.

This physician runs a diabetes and heart club, which holds biweekly meetings with the first hour taught in Spanish and the second in English. The focus is on helping people with questions or problems and to steer them into the hospital system as much as possible. "We are trying to address those two health topics with the Hispanic population because that is a big problem in our area," said Foland.

There are many features at Wellness Works that are designed to draw consumers who visit the mall. For example, the reading center is set up like a living room with easy chairs so people can come in and learn about health topics while they wait for friends or family to shop. There are no checkout privileges, so people must read the books and view the videos on premise.

However, there are a variety of pamphlets on popular health topics such as diabetes, cholesterol, nutrition, exercise, and smoking cessation that people can take with them. Brochures that promote a particular health awareness month often are featured during that time span.

Cooking demonstrations on nutritional topics frequently are conducted in the kitchen at Wellness Works, which is located near the entrance so that the smell of cooking might draw people in. A couple of cooking demonstrations usually are scheduled during the day, with one on Saturday as well.

They cover such topics as heart-healthy food and desserts, cooking on the run, and how to use herbs in place of sodium. Once, the staff held a tea talk discussing the benefits of different types of tea such as green or black, and those in attendance tried the different types.

Explaining Wellness Works

While the smell of cooking near the entrance and other design features may help attract consumers, lots of advertising is what draws customers, says Foland. "A lot of people had never heard of a center like this and didn’t know what to expect. It could have been a clinic for low-income people as far as they knew," she explains. Radio and newspaper ads as well as contact with social groups and organizations have helped people learn what the resource center is all about and how they might use it.

In addition to the kitchen and reading room, Wellness Works has a computer center. The three computers that are available for public use are connected to the center’s web site (www.wellnessworksonline.org), which has health features and links to other health web sites that have been approved by a panel of physicians at Saint Francis Medical Center. A firewall keeps consumers from accessing other Internet sites.

The health works center has an interactive learning environment with models of the various parts of the body and a skeleton for those who prefer hands-on learning. An educational center that can seat from 30-50 people and can be petitioned off is used for lectures by health care professionals is available. Lectures usually are scheduled for Thursday evening and focus on the health topic of the month, such as colorectal cancer during colorectal cancer awareness month.

The educational center also is used on Wednesday morning for a program called Lap and Learn that targets mall walkers. "We try to gear the topics to the retired age group, talking about topics like eating healthy, medication interaction, or keeping your brain active as you get older," says Foland. During the first Wednesday of each month, blood pressure screenings are conducted.

On occasion, other screenings are scheduled at Wellness Works if physicians from the medical center think it would be a good tool for diagnosis. "About every three months, we will have cholesterol or glucose screening for a small fee to cover lab work," says Foland. A knee and hip pain seminar also is scheduled twice a month.

In addition to Foland, who is a dietitian, and the physician from Colombia, the center is staffed with RNs and one LPN. It is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, opening one hour earlier on Wednesday mornings for Lap and Learn. On weekends, Well-ness Works is open on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

"The mall is open 70 hours a week, and we are required by our lease agreement to be open 60 hours a week," says Foland.


For more information on Wellness Works, contact: