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Nurses team with CPS Energy to keep community healthy
What do CPS Energy, the nation’s largest municipally owned energy company, and the UT Health Science Center San Antonio School of Nursing have in common? More than you may know.
The two joined forces in the summer of 2015 to better educate the community on issues related to health and safety. Jesse Hernandez, director of Community Programs for CPS Energy, said their business is more than just a utility company.
“We serve more than 786,000 electric customers and 339,000 natural gas customers in the greater San Antonio area,” Hernandez said. “We care about the customers we serve and want to be a trusted resource for their home energy health and safety issues. We realized the School of Nursing would be the ideal partner for us in this aim.”
Hernandez’s team collaborated with School of Nursing faculty to increase awareness of the customer assistance and discount programs CPS Energy offers. The goal is to improve citizens’ health and safety outcomes.
Nursing professors Adelita Cantu, Ph.D., RN, and Karine Crow, Ph.D., RN, immediately saw the connection.
“Nursing students are on the forefront of interfacing with and establishing trust with the community,” Dr. Cantu said. “Population health relates to the whole of what makes a community healthy and the environment impacts health in a multitude of ways. CPS Energy is working to create an environment that keeps people healthy. Our faculty and students have the skills and knowledge to help make that happen.”
As part of the partnership, nursing students visit San Antonio neighborhoods to participate in public speaking opportunities and to conduct one-onone conversations and interviews with community members. They inform citizens about myriad community assistance programs CPS Energy offers those in need. Students focus on vulnerable populations including residents at senior centers and those living in low-income housing areas. They conduct community assessments and help identify homeowners who may need help with energy efficiency problems or assistance with their energy bills.
Darinka Hudson, RN, who is a student in the M.S.N. program in the School of Nursing, said participating in the partnership gave her confidence to help bridge gaps between the public and CPS Energy.
“When students joined the effort, people seemed more open to recognizing the benefits CPS Energy programs offered them,” Hudson said.
Dr. Cantu indicated the goal is for nursing students to deliver the message to qualified community members and encourage them to apply for CPS Energy services. The initial engagement improves the opportunity for CPS Energy staff to communicate with and help those who qualify for their programs.
Dr. Crow added that the program allows nursing students to experience firsthand what it takes to meet public health needs.
“Poor housing quality for example can lead to a homeowner’s inability to maintain his home’s temperature control, which could render him susceptible to illness when climate changes. That in turn can lead to ailments and absenteeism and a decrease in productivity in our city’s workforce,” she said. “It’s a vicious cycle.”
The partnership helps demonstrate to students the various potential energyrelated home health hazards that might bring people into a hospital.
“It also helps students realize how public health nurses have an impact on patients’ health even if they aren’t administering medication or tending to more common ailments. It makes the connection more real.”
Students and faculty are continually working with CPS Energy to improve the new partnership. In one instance, students found community members complained that assistance applications were too complicated, wordy and difficult to read. When they alerted CPS Energy staff, the Community Programs team quickly made changes to improve the forms.
“The goal is for the School of Nursing to be the conduit to increasing awareness about our community programs, and they have,” Hernandez said.
“Our preliminary data indicates that students have helped identify more than 200 homes as qualifying for programs we offer to help citizens improve their homes’ energy efficiency. We tailored promotional pieces and created an online application that helped increase the number of applicants to the programs,” he said.
Dr. Crow said the experience broadens students’ awareness of resources available in the community.
“They gain a wider perspective,” she said. “This effort is a perfect example of an academic and health partnership that allows us all to think more creatively about ways we can work together to enhance the health of our community.”
Article by Melissa Mireles with Natalie A. Gutierrez