New Furman University institute focuses on community health

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A new Furman University institute will focus on improving the health of the greater Greenville community.

In conjunction with the Greenville Health System, the Institute for the Advancement of Community Health will allow students and faculty to be more strategically involved in the work of community organizations working to support healthier lifestyles.

The IACH will assist more than 1,000 Furman students with finding volunteer work at GHS and in the community to further this health cause, says Eli Hestermann, IACH executive director, who also teaches biology at Furman and is GHS’ executive director of pre-professional studies.

GHS and Furman formed a partnership several years ago, but only put a name to it – IACH – in the spring of 2016.

The goal is to tackle community health problems, an issue that health systems like GHS increasingly are addressing because of the new focus on keeping people healthy and out of the hospital. Health care reimbursement is increasingly giving doctors and hospitals incentives to keep patients from using the emergency room or being admitted to the hospital, all as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“This gives us a unique opportunity to partner with a large health system and figure out how we’re going to work with all these different groups to make the community healthy,” Hestermann says.

The institute is part of Furman Advantage, a new initiative that guarantees every incoming freshman the opportunity for an engaged learning experience. Engaged learning is a strategy that puts skills and knowledge learned in the classroom into practice while serving the community.

More than 40 percent of Furman students are pursuing careers in health care, and the school just created a new major in public health and an interdisciplinary minor in medicine, health and society, said President Elizabeth Davis. “This is a great example of where Furman’s expertise and the needs of the community come into alignment,” she said. The institute will connect those students to internship, research and mentorship opportunities with community partners, she said.

Some examples include having Furman students work in the hospital to meet with patients and their families, going through a checklist about their family history and current health problems. Students, using the checklist, can determine if there are poverty, transportation, housing issues that impact how well someone maintains his or her health.

Other examples would be having students work with community farms, helping with anti-poverty projects, and doing health care research with Furman professors, Hestermann says.

“This project will take a lot of research,” he explains. “GHS has a rich set of data about how healthy people are, how sick they are, and if we identify a particular group that is not doing well, then maybe we could identify gaps in the health system or even in the community’s support system.”

The IACH is already collaborating with Furman’s Riley Institute on education and diversity issues and with the Shi Center for Sustainability on food security in the local community.

Melinda Young contributed to this report.

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