Academic and practice partnership turns students into life savers

Friday, March 29, 2019

Undergraduate students at the University of Washington School of Public Health are educating vulnerable populations across Seattle and King County about life-saving actions such as hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). They’re also teaching seniors about the signs of stroke and ensuring non-English speakers know how to navigate emergency services.

These activities are all part of a larger collaboration among the School, the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Division at Public Health – Seattle & King County, and community-based organizations. Called the Vulnerable Populations Strategic Initiative, or VPSI for short, the program’s overall goal is to improve the interface between EMS and vulnerable populations using evidence-based public health approaches.

More than 140 students in the Public Health – Global Health major have taken part in VPSI as part of their senior service-learning capstone, a requirement for the core curriculum. In addition, 22 undergraduates from SPH, and across the UW, have worked on VPSI as summer interns. Students have met with more than 15,000 limited-English-proficiency residents and other older adults at community-based organizations, senior centers, health fairs and other community events – teaching folks how to perform CPR and how to engage best with 911 operators. They’ve also knocked on nearly 2,800 doors in the Seattle area, where they talked to more than 430 seniors about CPR and stroke.

“People are often very surprised to learn that mouth-to-mouth during CPR is no longer necessary,” said Nicholas Barclay, a senior in the Public Health – Global Health major and a 2018 summer intern for VPSI. In CPR recommendations released a decade ago, the American Heart Association said that hands-only CPR – rapid, deep presses on the victim’s chest until help arrives – works just as well as standard CPR.

In surveys conducted by the local EMS Division, results have shown that the education provided by VPSI has increased knowledge of when and how to call 911 as well as how to perform bystander CPR.

VPSI began more than four-and-a-half years ago as a county-wide effort to increase equity and improve social justice in the region. The content of the program was informed, in part, by research from Hendrika Meischke, a professor of health services at SPH. She had been working with the local public health department and its EMS Division to investigate the barriers that immigrant communities experience in accessing 911 and performing CPR.

In a needs assessment, Meischke and others found that people with limited-English proficiency posed challenges in 911 service delivery due to language barriers and other cultural differences. Over the years, the initiative expanded to include different outreach efforts, including CPR and stroke education.

Other key players in the academic and practice partnership are Sara Mackenzie, senior lecturer in health services and director of the undergraduate Public Health – Global Health major; Deb Hinchey, senior lecturer at the University of Vermont, who previously worked at SPH; Anjulie Ganti, a senior instructor in health services who teaches the undergraduate capstone course; and Michele Plorde, director of the EMS Division at Public Health – Seattle & King County. Local partners include the Chinese Information and Services Center, Somali Health Board, King County fire departments and call centers, King County Office of Emergency Management, and key leaders from vulnerable communities.