Nursing seniors help Morgantown’s homeless as they earn their degrees

They propose homeless outreach be part of School of Nursing curriculum

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – To earn their degrees, West Virginia University School of Nursing students Macy Miller and Bill Grieb shared their skills with a population that not every nursing student sees. They spent nearly 20 hours each on the streets of Morgantown working with homeless people.

“Before my experience with the homeless, regretfully, I stereotyped this population as unmotivated with poor hygiene, but you have to realize they’re just normal people who are struggling,” Miller said.

As part of their capstone project, Miller and Grieb took clothes and food to the homeless and also conducted health screenings including checks of blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

But the pair took the process a step further. They also recommended to their teachers that outreach to the homeless be made a part of the baccalaureate curriculum. They introduced the idea to the WVU School of Nursing undergraduate faculty in April.

Their project was titled “The Value of Including Homeless Outreach Service Learning in Nursing School Curricula.”

“Our goal is to have the School of Nursing establish a screening clinic at Bartlett House (the homeless shelter in Morgantown),” Grieb said. “The homeless rarely have contact with the healthcare system. The idea is to initiate that contact and to maintain that continuity.”

At least one of their instructors thought it was a good idea.

“I think it is important for students to be required to spend time working with homeless outreach as a part of the curriculum because I believe that those firsthand experiences expose students to realities that they might not otherwise encounter,” Susan Pinto, M.S.N., clinical instructor in the School of Nursing, said.

“Poverty and poor health outcomes are closely linked,” she said. “Homelessness is absolute poverty, and nurses are likely to work with individuals who are facing the challenges of poverty and homelessness.”

Miller and Grieb didn’t go out on the streets alone. They joined with MUSHROOM (Multidisciplinary Unsheltered Homeless Relief Outreach of Morgantown) volunteers.

The MUSHROOM Project was established in 2005 and is administered by medical students. The project brings together volunteers from medical, nursing, social services, journalism, occupational therapy, community medicine, pharmacy, political science and ministerial fields.

Every other Thursday, MUSHROOM Project volunteers visit areas in Morgantown such as riverbanks, downtown streets and the Bartlett House. Volunteers provide food, hygiene products, clothing and healthcare. The project serves an average of 28 clients during the biweekly rounds.

Grieb also volunteered with Milan Puskar Health Right in January as part of his community health rotation. Although his rotation was complete in March, he continues to volunteer his time and works four hours a week at the Homeless Care Clinic.

Miller initiated a clothing drive in her hometown, Romney, W.Va., and donated almost 30 bags of clothes to the MUSHROOM Project in Morgantown. Her parents also donated a $500 check to the project for food and supplies.

“The way the economy is, more and more people are being put in this situation, and we need to stop stereotyping and actually go out and help them because one day it could possibly be you,” Miller said.

Miller and Grieb are expecting to graduate at the end of the summer.

Grieb, of Morgantown, hopes to work in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at WVU Hospitals. He would eventually like to become a nurse practitioner specializing in acute or family practice.

Miller plans to attend graduate school at WVU to become a pediatric nurse practitioner. She is also interested in doing missionary work in other countries.

For information about the MUSHROOM Project or to make a donation see www.hsc.wvu.edu/som/mushroom.asp.

For information about the Bartlett House call 304-292-0101 or see www.bartletthouse.org.

For information on the School of Nursing see www.hsc.wvu.edu/son.


For more information:
Amy Johns, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087

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