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"If we pay attention to our civic duties, we CAN change health care"

“If every institution of higher education and every academic health center did what we did, we [could] change the world,” said Deborah Miller with confidence.

Miller is associate vice president of clinical services at Northwestern Health Sciences University (NWHSU), a graduate school that provides training in natural health care such as chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage therapy. I met with her recently at the NWHSU campus in Bloomington, Minn., to learn more about the school’s experience providing free health care for veterans and military families.

standto.jpgPhoto credit: Sgt. Lynette Hoke; Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs Office

Relationships

More than a year ago, a Bloomington resident active in the Warrior to Citizen Campaign approached the school about offering free or reduced-cost health services to returning veterans. The provost’s response was an immediate “yes.” He asked Miller to make it happen.

NWHSU staff.jpg(L-R) Clinic staff members Dr. Jeff Ewald, Shawn Burroughs and Louise Hess

NWHSU already partners with the Adler Graduate School and University of Minnesota Medical School and School of Nursing to provide community-based, pro-bono health care and counseling at Pillsbury House, a settlement house in south Minneapolis.

The university offers fee-based care to the general public at its clinics in Bloomington and Burnsville, but because of contracts with health plans Miller decided that using the university’s student-directed clinics was the best option. She saw it as a potential win-win: students would have exposure to a wider variety of health conditions and a more diverse patient population, and it would be another way for the school to bring its mission of community service to life.

acupuncture.jpgAcupuncture is one of the treatments offered at the Edith Davis Teaching Clinic

The clinic supervisor, a former Marine, was enthusiastic, and when Miller presented the idea to students they made it clear that they “wanted to make a difference in the lives of those who’ve served our country,” she said. Miller worked with program deans, and drew on her contacts at the Adler Graduate School. “When we decided to do this, I said one component that we must have [available] is counseling.” As a former nurse, Miller sees health in terms of the whole person, not just their physical health.

She also knows something about transition and reintegration issues of returning veterans from her husband, a Vietnam veteran, and asked Adler's counselors to provide training for NWHSU staff and faculty on caring for service members.

Getting the word out

With the Adler partnership established and a commitment on the part of NWHSU students and staff, the next issue was “how do we let people know that we’re going to do this?,” said Miller. Less than a month after the first conversations about the Warrior to Citizen Campaign, NWHSU announced their free clinics at a community stand-to for 300 soldiers organized by the Bloomington Warrior to Citizen group at the local armory. A few months went by and the response was slow. Then Miller was approached by a student at the University of St. Thomas who needed to do a project for his degree in social work: he was an Iraq war veteran and wanted to create a brochure to help get the word out. The brochure, which was distributed at National Night Out events by Warrior to Citizen groups in Bloomington and Burnsville, resulted in calls and patients. Today, “as patients have used our services, they’re telling more people,” said Miller.

Yes, we can change health care

Using purely quantitative measures, the Warrior to Citizen Health Clinics can be described as successful in their outreach: more than 62 recent veterans and their spouses have made nearly 400 clinic visits (that’s $30,000 worth of care.). But Miller is adamant in keeping the focus on the potential of this kind of grassroots work to change health care. “I really believe that if we all pay attention to community service and our civic duties and giving back to others, WE CAN change health care,” she said. “Just listen to the students. They’re young, they’re learning their profession. They’re going to be better health care providers by having this experience.”

Warrior to Citizen Free Health Clinics

--- De Rusha Clinical Education Center, 2501 W. 84th St., Bloomington, MN; 952-885-5415 (chiropractic, psychological counseling, family counseling)

--- Edith Davis Teaching Clinic, 2501 W. 84th St., Bloomington, MN; 952-885-5450 (acupuncture, oriental medicine)

--- Burnsville Natural Care Center, 12445 River Ridge Blvd., Burnsville, MN; 952-894-7620 (massage therapy)

Read A Call To Serve: Northwestern Steps Up to Help Citizen Soldiers in Northwestern Today (March 23, 2009).

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs