TC seniors centerNursing student Tiffany Ashbaker was happy with 79-year-old Paul Morrison’s blood sugar, but wanted to keep an eye on his blood pressure after it tested a little high.

By Veronica Sandate Craker

“When the nurse took it (the other day) it was 136 over 80. It was beautiful,” Morrison told Ashbaker, a nursing student at Washington State University Tri-Cities.

Ashbaker was happy to hear that and suggested they rest for a second before trying it again.

Ashbaker and Morrison meet every week as part of a collaboration between Meals on Wheels and the College of Nursing at WSU Tri-Cities. The program is part of a four-year study funded by the United Way of Benton and Franklin Counties to determine the impact Meals on Wheels has on the seniors it serves.

Jill Berg, a Meals on Wheels dietician, received the funding for the study and reached out to Susan Campbell, the nursing program’s interim director, about the possibility of getting a couple of nursing students to help them conduct the surveys.

Instead of a couple of students, Campbell sent her 22.

Campbell said the helping with the Meals on Wheels program also helps the nursing students fulfill one of their first semester program activities that requires them to meet with a “well senior” (someone who is not ill) to help them develop their professionalism sills.

Typically the nursing students must conduct five visits with seniors to get them familiar with common assessment tools in gerontology.

“So being part of the study, of collecting data, runs right alongside their courses,” Campbell said. “They are taking classes in research, evidence-based practice and learning how to bring what they’re hearing in theory into daily practice and that is exactly what they’re doing with Meals on Wheels.”

The students are partnered with a senior and must assess their independence or the ability to remain independent in their home. They also do regular checks of their blood pressure and vitals, to help them practice their nursing skills.

“What I tell the seniors is they’re going to come and learn their bedside manner and their interviewing skills and how to conduct those kinds of relationship,” Berg said.

Campbell said the program doesn’t just benefit the students. The seniors are also getting something out of the study.

For many of the seniors, their Meals on Wheels deliver driver is the only person they see or communicate with during the day.

“So they are so excited to be connected to someone who’s going to listen to their story and get to know them a little more,” Berg said.

This is evident when Ashbaker and Morrison’s conversation drifts from his breathing treatments to his wife Barbara, who also receives meals from Meals on Wheels.

After the nursing students collect the data it will be handed over to WSU Tri-Cities’ business department to be studied.

“So we are also working with Tim Baker’s business class to analyze some of the data and utilize his class, that is learning data analysis and statistical applications, to aid us,” Berg said. “So that’s another side benefit we will be starting this spring.”

Campbell said she hasn’t heard of collaborations like this occurring anywhere else. And after four years when the study is over she hopes the two groups can continue to work together by partnering nursing students with local seniors.

“That’s one of the core values of WSU Tri-Cities, to be active in our community and active in the Tri-Cities,” Campbell said. “Not just have students doing abstract learning in a classroom, but to have them connect with real life events in our community.”

The connection that Ashbaker and Morrison share is obvious as they laugh over stories about his youth. Near the end of their meeting, Ashbaker takes his blood pressure again and is happy to discover it has gone down.

“She’s great. She’s trying to get me on a good course,” said Morrison. “She does a good job. She’s going to be a good nurse.”

This article was originally published in the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business, May 2014