Efforts in community outreach can be worthwhile

There are many ways to send a message

Community outreach is a way to encourage people to achieve good health while introducing your services to them so, if they ever need good medical care, they know where to go for it, says Laura Gebers, BSN, RN, BC, PCS, programs health education coordinator, at Deborah Heart and Lung Center in Browns Mills, NJ.

"If there is any way we can meet the needs of the community, I want to make sure we do that, and I have the full support of the nursing administration," she explains. There are several community outreach efforts that the medical center supports that Gebers either honed when she was hired in her position or has introduced. Following are a few of the projects in which she is involved:

Support groups

Gebers coordinates the Zipper Club, for open heart surgery patients; the Zapper Club, for those who have had a defibrillator implanted; and the Better Breathers Club, for people with respiratory conditions. While members of these groups support one another during their meetings, several in the Zipper Club also provide support for patients having surgery. They act as counselors and meet with patients prior to their open-heart surgery and also with family members waiting in the surgical waiting room. There also is a list of Zipper Club members who are willing to talk with patients considering the surgery who want to discuss the procedure with someone who has been through it.

Although Gebers was asked to reduce the cost of running the support groups, she was able to cut expenses without losing the benefits of the clubs. She stopped producing quarterly newsletters for each group and designed one to fit all the groups. It has a list of all the support group activities and meetings as well as a cover story that is pertinent to all readers, such as heart-healthy meals. Also, a member of a support group is recognized for his/her contributions in each newsletter.

Eliminating refreshments was another of the cost-cutting measures; however, Gebers was able to find a foundation that was willing to contribute them. Refreshments help with the socialization of the support group and make people more comfortable, she says.

Health fairs

Deborah Heart and Lung Center conducts about 60 health fairs of various size each year. To help contain costs, Gebers uses student nurse externs or nurses aides for screening procedures rather than RNs. However, a registered nurse or nurse practitioner supervises the group and acts as a counselor should participants need instruction. The cost of a student nurse extern is about one-third that of an RN, said Gebers.

Services offered at health fairs include education and screenings such as blood pressure screening and cholesterol screening, body fat analysis, and pulmonary function testing. At two large events that reach residents throughout the state of New Jersey, Deborah Heart and Lung Center partners with the drug company Pfizer to conduct a computerized health risk assessment. All data collected from the screenings are entered into the computer along with other risk factors such as diabetes, and each participant is told the likelihood of having a cardiac event within the next 10 years.

Smokers are given a calculation to show how their risk for a cardiac event drops if they stop smoking. Smokers also are given smoking cessation material and are connected with a local support group or newjerseyquitnet.com, which is an on-line smoking cessation program. "It is wonderful to be able to take health fairs and the information we receive in the screenings to another level," says Gebers. Also, at the larger events, a registered dietitian is available to discuss how to lower cholesterol and provide information on body mass index and healthy dietary plans.


A partnership with the local mall resulted in the Deborah Relaxation Station, a kiosk that is located in all seating areas at the mall. At the station, people are able to obtain information about the services at the medical center as well as general information on heart health and healthy recipes.

The fee for the station at the mall entitles Deborah to hold four annual events in the center court. Thus far, the medical center has hosted a health expo with screenings as well as booths with vendors who have health-related products. The focus of all future expos will be on wellness, prevention, or some type of health care support, reports Gebers.

Currently, plans are being set in place to feature a panel of cardiologists who will provide timely information on heart health and risk factors followed by screenings for interested members of the public.

A partnership with the Burlington County School System provides an innovative opportunity for students to learn about heart health and win scholarship money. Each year, high schools within the school system are invited to enter teams in the Deborah Heart Challenge, an educational competition judged by physicians from Deborah Heart and Lung Center. Teams are given a resource book on circulation and cardiac health to study before the competition and all the questions are pulled from that text.

In addition, students with artistic talent are invited to enter the heart art competition. Their two- and three-dimensional artwork is displayed during the challenge and some of the art is used to promote the following year’s competition. "The competition helps students learn about the circulatory system and the heart," says Gebers.

Speaker’s bureau

A current list of speakers was needed to fill requests that came from throughout the community and tri-state area. To develop this list, Gebers distributed a questionnaire to employees to determine their position, their area of expertise, and which audiences they felt comfortable addressing. She uses this information to find speakers when requests are made from organizations, businesses, schools, or the foundation chapters that raise money for the institution.

Parade entry

Gebers found a fun way to market the services at Deborah and also remind people about heart health. A float was entered in a nearby Halloween Parade, which is the second largest in the nation. Their first entry, with the theme "Healing Hearts," won first place. Employees on the float were dressed like hearts and danced to heart-related songs. Banners on the sides of the float read: "World-Class People, World-Class Care."


For more information about the outreach projects at Deborah Heart and Lung Center, contact:

Laura Gebers, BSN, RN, BC, PCS Programs Health Education Coordinator, Deborah Heart and Lung Center, 200 Trenton Road, Browns Mills, NJ 08015. Telephone: (609) 893-1200, ext. 5258. E-mail: gebersl@deborah.org.