‘Virtual’ health center receives excellence award

Health, wellness resources ultra-accessible

It doesn’t take bricks and mortar to create a women’s health center that rates as one of the six best in the nation. It takes a vision of the health and wellness resources and a knack for positioning them in the right places. That might be a church women attend regularly, where parking is easy. It could be a kiosk or "resource corner" full of health and wellness brochures in the lobby of a medical office building that houses physicians who specialize in women’s health.

Innovations like those earned a 1996 National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health award for The Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus.

"We have made significant progress in expanding the definition of women’s health beyond obstetrics and gynecology," explains Julie Amling, MHA, director of women’s health services and national center of excellence in women’s health. "We pride ourselves on the breadth of our services. We recognize that women are looking for more than just information for themselves. They want it for their families as well, so we try to place a whole breadth of information in one place." Amling calls it "one-stop shopping" for health and wellness resources.

She and her staff of four make considerable impact from their modest administrative office on the campus. The following programs were thriving long before the center received national acclaim:

• Through the Health for Life project, medical center faculty volunteer to teach free public programs in libraries, community centers, and civic buildings. Topics range from parenting to podiatry.

• Since many of the university’s faculty and students are Asian, language poses a barrier when they need maternity services. To ease the difficulty, some of the medical center’s Asian American faculty make bedside visits to lend moral support and help with language difficulties.

• Through its corporate and community alliances, the women’s health center participates in local and regional health fairs and on-site wellness programs for businesses.

• Throughout the medical school, through dialogue with the faculty, the women’s center has heightened concern about the particular needs of women. In the neuropsychology, cardiology, rehabilitation, and senior health departments, to name a few, the respective faculty help students tune in to clinical and care management issues specific to women. In senior health, for example, students learn not to assume that their elderly female patients have the in-home support of a healthy husband to provide care after a stroke or heart attack, because many women are widows in late life.

Decentralized service breaks with tradition

Amling concedes that the wide dispersal of services represents a bold departure from the traditional definition of a central place for women’s services. "Frankly, [our staff] struggled with the concept, but we wanted to offer a different perception, so we’ve continued to create programs where we know they’ll really reach women," she says.

That type of creativity turned heads at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in Washington, DC, which named Ohio State’s medical center one of six centers of excellence. The centers for excellence project is designed to create "innovative models of one-stop shopping for women’s health care in academic centers that will become models for women’s health centers nationwide," explains Susan Blumenthal, MD, MPA, DHHS deputy assistant secretary for women’s health and assistant surgeon general.

The award involves a commitment by Ohio State to pilot new programs during the 18-month contract period. Seed money of $253,000, along with generous in-kind services from the university, will underwrite the effort.

The innovations will strengthen academic-community links and create new health education services. The medical center’s Heart Partners program, for example, will take women’s cardiac screening and clinical services to community sites. The faculty will staff the programs.

A World Wide Web page will guide the public to Ohio State’s women’s services as well as to others around the world. Amling is working with consultants to accomplish that task. A women’s health resource corner will inventory all of the university’s women’s health-related materials in a kiosk in the campus library. Handouts will be available to the public, as will a computer database of local and national resources.

A community effort

Ohio State’s Community Council on Women’s Health will further integrate the university with the community. Amling plans to involve business and philanthropic leaders in implementing research and service programs.

Also on the drawing board are plans to build on the current relationships with community leaders, many of whom have expressed willingness to secure additional private and public funds for research on women’s health and wellness and to educate young girls about the growing opportunities for careers in women’s health.

As for the impact of the award, Amling says, "It’s been a real elevation of the importance of women’s health within our institution and the community. It’s boosted our morale and rallied people around projects that have been going on for some time. The recognition has served to remind us and others that women’s health is important."