Giving babies and their moms a healthy start

Student-run program connects new low-income mothers with resources

By Stephanie Weaver  |  Photos courtesy of Health Outreach Baltimore and Malia Leary

Loyola and Mercy Medical Center have partnered together with University of Maryland Medical Center to create Health Outreach Baltimore (HOB), a student-run program that helps connect new mothers with resources. The program, new for the 2014-15 academic year, replaced Health Leads, a similar partnership with Mercy that began in 2006.

Students work in conjunction with social workers at Mercy in the mother-baby unit, emergency department, and the Center for Advanced Fetal Care, helping to connect low-income clients with services such as health insurance, financial resources, free cribs, GED classes, and other local support initiatives. The program gives students interested in health care a chance to be immersed in the hospital culture.

The 2014-15 Health Outreach Baltimore (HOB) student  volunteers pose for a group photo. Students have two  volunteer options: in-hospital service at Mercy Medical  Center, or on campus as student leaders.

The 2014-15 Health Outreach Baltimore (HOB) student volunteers pose for a group photo. Students have two volunteer options: in-hospital service at Mercy Medical Center, or on campus as student leaders.

“This program is really helping to educate and motivate our patients. Having young, energetic college students in these departments brings great energy and promotes a healthy work environment, which really is a benefit to our patients,” said Meredith Thompson, Mercy volunteer coordinator.

The students have two volunteer options: as in-hospital volunteers, who work at Mercy, or as student leaders, who are on campus to coordinate the volunteers as well as recruit new students and schedule meetings with the group. Students serving as in-hospital volunteers work side-by-side with social workers on each unit at Mercy Medical Center in four-hour shifts.

But HOB is about more than just shadowing a professional, Stacey McGuigan, ’15, explained. Students are required to keep in touch with the clients, making weekly phone calls to check in, and assist with any additional needs.

“It is rewarding for us to know that we were able to work with them to achieve their goals,” said McGuigan, a biology and psychology major who has been involved with the program since her first year at Loyola.

This spring she was one of five student leaders who stay on campus to coordinate the program, connecting 20 pre-health students with their shifts each week. Students gain a variety of skills through the program. Not only do students learn about resources available in Baltimore, but they also gain a new perspective on poverty, hunger, and other prevalent issues. And it speaks to cura personalis.

HOB participants held a raffle in March to raise funds for the Outreach program.

HOB participants held a raffle in March to raise funds for the Outreach program.

“HOB truly embodies the development of the whole person that Loyola so greatly values,” said Olivia Pelletier, ’15, a biology major and student leader for the program. “Volunteers have heavy workloads and are involved in other activities on campus, so their commitment to HOB and our clients is a testament to their devotion to serving others.”

Elizabeth Curley, ’15, also an HOB student leader, agreed.

“Often in the chaotic medical world, all doctors or other health professionals can do is treat the ailment in front of them. Little thought is given to question what goes beyond what is in front of them,” said Curley. “We are looking at a person holistically and trying to tackle all the things that the health care system currently cannot provide.”

One of the many goals of the program is to expand the service to all patients of Mercy, said Jenny Poliwka, HOB program developer. Although expansion is years down the road, Poliwka said she’s currently focusing on supporting the mothers, babies, and families, as well as helping Loyola students learn new skills while exposing them to the hospital environment.

The program, which began in fall 2014, has already impacted students in positive ways. A campaign to recruit new students to the program started this past spring, in which current volunteers were asked “Why HOB?”

Several students, including Leah Hill, ’17, responded with their favorite moments from the past year. Hill, a biology major and political science minor, said her most memorable moment was the first time a mother thanked her for helping her find the services she needed.

“It was my first time meeting a mother who was so enthusiastic about receiving help. I was so surprised that she was willing to tell me her story and the hardships she had been through. I learned more in those four hours than I have in the last month working there. I was truly honored to help her, because she made me realize that the work that I am doing actually makes a difference,” Hill said.

Student volunteers at Mercy connect new mothers and newborns with important services and resources. Pictured: Collin Leary in Mercy’s NICU, days after birth

Student volunteers at Mercy connect new mothers and newborns with important services and resources. Pictured: Collin Leary in Mercy’s NICU, days after birth

Loyola’s program is coordinated through the pre-health office in the office of the dean of first-year students and academic services, in partnership with Center for Community Service and Justice. Maiju Lehmijoki-Gardner, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor of theology at Loyola, is the coordinator of health professions counseling.

“HOB is a part of the Baltimore community, where we learn and interact every day. Students are often amazed by interactions with community members, through HOB or otherwise, because they see how much they have to share and learn. Baltimore is a college town, with a considerable number of students coming to the city to engage,” said Lehmijoki-Gardner.

“Education can benefit everyone when it is part of the community, and it can help the outcome of people’s lives. Students can also benefit through what they gain from their education and their community. Loyola, unlike many of its neighboring schools, doesn’t have a partner hospital, nursing program, or social work program—but many undergraduate students are interested in these fields. HOB is a way for Loyola to interact within the community and bridge that gap.”

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