Staying healthy as one ages is a concept not lost on the Sisters of Saint Francis. Each year the sisters with nursing backgrounds would administer health checks to their fellow sisters living in OLA convent. With the convent's population growing older, the need arose for others to conduct these health screenings. Fortunately, the sisters had to look no farther than across their driveway to Neumann University.
Students from the Doctor of Physical Therapy and Nurse Practitioner programs volunteer to conduct these health assessments. This mutually beneficial arrangement was developed by Judy Neubauer, assistant professor and director of graduate nursing, Dr. Karen Wientjes, professor in the DPT program, and Sr. Mary Beth Antonelli, a former nurse living in the convent.
Neubauer and Wientjes are members of the sisters' wellness committee. They work closely with Sr. Mary Beth and became aware of the need for additional medical caregivers with these health assessments.
"We have always supported our sisters in a holistic way to promote the health and well-being of them. We used to do (screenings) ourselves, but we saw a need and wanted to collaborate with Neumann University," Sr. Mary Beth said.
The goal is to conduct medical wellness exams to monitor the sisters' health. These health checks include blood pressure screenings, height and weight checks, eye exams, and gait and balance assessments, including the ABC (Activities-Specific Balance Confidence) scale. DPT student Jessica Baker conducted a functional gait assessment, which included observing the sisters move from a seated position to a standing position and other exercises from the ABC scale.
"We're looking for fall risks. If the ABC score is low, it will indicate if they are a fall risk," professor Wientjes explained.
These exams are comprehensive, covering all aspects of one's health.
"We did the medical part, lungs, heart rate, review of their meds, diabetic foot screens, and questions about their home environment. We also asked about their mental state, checking for depression. They were wonderful and very appreciative, such sweet ladies," said Laneka Raison, a nurse practitioner student.
This pilot program started on March 29, 2022, with 22 sisters receiving health assessments. The goal is to assess 20 sisters each semester.
"Nurse practitioners and physical therapy students are learning together and working together. It's a win/win because of the social interaction for the sisters, too," said Neubauer. "It's so important to give back to this community."
Typically, graduate students such as the ones in the pilot program do not have much interaction with the sisters. The conversations that flowed between the students and the sisters have benefited both groups. Sr. Mary Beth recalled students asking about the meaning of the Tau Cross, a topic she was well versed speaking on.
"We begin with a prayer, and we bless the students before they start," Sr. Mary Beth said. "The sisters said the students were so professional and couldn't have praised them enough."
Sr. Nancy Lamey, who is in her 80s and aced her health assessment, enjoyed interacting with the NU students. "The students made me feel relaxed, and I just felt at ease. There was a light spirit they created."