The Nobel Prize of Nursing

An award-winning program is transforming healthcare in Peoria’s poorest neighborhoods.

by Kirk Wessler, OSF HealthCare
The awarding of the 2019 ANCC Magnet Prize
Susan Smith, Jo Garrison and Jennifer Hopwood (second, third and fourth from left) of OSF Saint Francis with representatives of the American Nurses Credentialing Center while accepting the 2019 ANCC Magnet Prize

About 500 hospitals in the world are designated Magnet institutions by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Only one of those each year wins the ANCC Magnet Prize, sponsored by Cerner, a leading supplier of healthcare information technology. The winner this year is OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center, in recognition of a nurse-led initiative that is transforming healthcare in Peoria’s poorest neighborhoods.

Providing Basic Needs
“It’s the Nobel Prize of nursing,” declares Jennifer Hopwood, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services at OSF Saint Francis. But winning a prize was not the reason behind this initiative.

“We did it because it was the right thing to do,” Hopwood notes. “This is outside the traditional brick and mortar of a hospital or clinic. This is population health at its best—taking care of people by providing basic needs so they don’t become sick.”

The impetus was to reduce non-urgent visits to the hospital emergency department. The majority of those visits were by residents of the 61603 and 61605 ZIP codes, which encompass the most impoverished areas of Peoria. Three faith community nurses were hired and assigned to embed themselves in the affected neighborhoods, while a Care-A-Van mobile unit brought healthcare to the streets. The nurses discovered a frightening level of food insecurity, which is defined as lacking food or the resources to obtain food.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 11.1 percent of Americans experienced food insecurity throughout 2018. However, in a survey of 165 residents of the two affected ZIP codes, the nurses found that more than 80 percent had experienced food insecurity within the past 12 months. “Being a native Peorian, I believed we can do better than this,” says Jo Garrison, director of ambulatory patient care at OSF Saint Francis.

Garden of Hope
One way they tackled the problem was through the St. Ann’s Garden of Hope, which occupies 2.2 acres adjacent to St. Ann’s Catholic Church on Peoria’s south side. With the help of some 400 volunteers and cooperative ventures with public and private entities, the garden became a hub of activity.

Neighborhood residents participated in the gardening, while school classes brought children to learn about gardening, exercising and healthy eating. By mid-October, 9,643 pounds of fresh produce had been harvested this year and delivered to the community.

The effectiveness of the program can be seen in the numbers. “After implementing our program and looking at emergency department data, what we’ve seen in these two ZIP codes is 1,900 fewer emergency department visits for non-urgent care,” Hopwood explains. 

Plans for the $50,000 prize money call for a greenhouse in which food can be grown year-round, as well as a covered shelter where education programs at the garden can be shaded from the summer sun. 

The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis founded the Peoria hospital in 1880 with a mission of hope that continues today. “What we’ve done here, this is the heart of the Sisters’ mission,” Hopwood says. “We are providing the greatest care and love by feeding people in need.” PM

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