The Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing (GGHSON) at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso) has received a $430,780 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide long-distance health education to underserved communities in rural West Texas. TTUHSC El Paso is the only institution in the state to receive one of the USDA’s 45 distance learning grants.
“I grew up in a small town and I understand what rurality is,” says Associate Professor and Assistant Dean Penny Cooper, D.N.P., R.N., the primary investigator who is leading the project. “Rurality impacts poverty and knowledge base, and ultimately, health.”
The grant will fund free health education services via interactive, live video conferencing for 10 West Texas communities. The target communities include Hudspeth, Presidio, Yoakum and El Paso counties, all of which have been labeled StrikeForce counties by the USDA — rural U.S. counties plagued by persistently high poverty rates. Forty-three percent of individuals living in Hudspeth and 21 percent of individuals living in Presidio live below the U.S. poverty line. In addition to staggering poverty rates, these communities face low levels of educational advancement. Only 2.6 percent of Hudspeth’s residents and 10.9 percent of Presidio’s hold a bachelor’s degree.
The GGHSON has already developed relationships with school districts in the 10 communities. While the program focuses primarily on elementary through high school students, education courses may be extended to the broader community, including parents and senior citizens. The project’s first step will be to determine the unique health education needs of each site.
“Each site will decide its own needs because they are the ones that know their region best,” Cooper explains. “Whether they need education on street safety, oral health, nutrition, obesity, exercise, chronic disease — we’ll be there to collaborate with them.”
In partnership with University Medical Center El Paso (UMC), the GGHSON will also provide Continuing Nursing Education (CNE) courses to nurses in rural hospitals and medical centers. Practicing nurses are required to take 20 hours of CNE courses every two years; however, this requirement may be challenging to meet in rural settings.
“Some forms of CNE may not be offered in rural areas, so nurses have to travel to attend them — creating unwanted travel expenses and work absences, and draining facilities that already run on limited nursing staff,” says Professor and Associate Dean Wm. Michael Scott, D.N.P., R.N., FAANP, co-investigator of the project. To help ease this strain, CNE courses will be live streamed from UMC to Pecos County Memorial Hospital and Permian Regional Medical Center.
The GGHSON team hopes the two-year health education project will ultimately improve the health of West Texas’ rural communities. The team also hopes to inspire young students to consider careers in health care.
“The job potentials for many of these communities are limited to prison guards, farmers and border patrol agents,” Cooper says. “We want to inspire younger generations to think outside the box and realize there are other possibilities — like nursing, medicine and dentistry.”
Additional partners on the project include Cisco Systems and Synetra, which will assist with technology setup and implementation. The GGHSON project has been endorsed by U.S. Reps. Will Hurd and Beto O’Rourke and Texas Sen. José Rodríguez, as well as community agencies such as the Texas E-Health Alliance and the Workforce Solutions Borderplex.