Project Empower: An Interdisciplinary Project

Sunday, 8 November 2015: 11:00 AM

Dawn Garrett-Wright, PhD, PMHNP, CNE
School of Nursing, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY, USA
Saundra Starks, EdD, LCSW
Department of Social Work, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY, USA
Cheryl Wolf, PhD, NCC, LPCA, PHR, CHt
Department of Counseling and Student Affairs, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY, USA

The purpose of this presentation is to describe an interprofessional project that brought together Social Work, Nursing and Counseling. Project EMPOWER was a grant funded project began by Social Work faculty from WKU. The acronym E.M.P.O.W.E.R. represents the overall goals for the project of Enhancing skills and abilities while providing Motivation for goal attainment and Prosperity, Overcoming challenges with the use of team Work through increased positive Energy to reach higher and gain Respect for self and others.  Project EMPOWER offered free psychosocial assessments, referrals, counseling services and resources for children, adolescents, adults and families. The primary populations served by Project EMPOWER were residents in the local Housing Authority, women staying at a local domestic violence shelter and refugees from various countries that migrated to the local area.  Services were provided by partnerships between the university, local mental health providers, the Bowling Green Housing Authority and the Bowling Green International Center. Graduate nursing students in a Masters program for Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNP) joined the team to gain hours to complete a required practicum. The nursing students, along with students from Social Work and Counseling, were allowed to conduct initial psychosocial assessments, make referrals to other service providers as needed,  run group education and empowerment sessions for children, adolescents and adults and conduct therapy/counseling for adult clients under the supervision of an expert Licensed Clinical Social Worker. This provided the nursing students experience in assessment and conducting therapy, which are required competencies for completion of a PMHNP program and to sit for certification. Nurses also participated in the project by serving on the Project EMPOWER Board of Directors and in provision of education to community providers and board members on topics related to mental health.

Challenges and benefits for the project were numerous. The challenges for the project included finding funding and resources to continue the project beyond the initial grant funding, provision of services to clients who spoke numerous languages and had varying levels of comfort with mental health services, and finding space to conduct assessment s and groups. Benefits from Project EMPOWER were noted for faculty, students and community participants. Faculty formed new interprofessional partnerships that continued past the end of the original grant funded project. In addition, faculty obtained research and practice opportunities. Faculty for the project were licensed mental health professionals and services provided could be counted toward maintaining clinical competence and certification. Students were able to learn new skills in a safe environment with supervision from expert clinicians. Interprofessional meetings also provided students with learning opportunities and the ability to see client care issues from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Finally, those benefiting most from Project EMPOWER were those in the community who received services. In the local community where Project EMPOWER provided services, it can take up to 6 months to obtain an appointment with a psychiatric provider. Project EMPOWER provided high quality services free of charge within days or weeks of the initial assessment. Community participants typically received about 8 sessions of therapy/counseling by a graduate nursing or social work intern or LCSW and referrals to other providers were made as needed. Approximately 450 clients were served in some capacity during the three year duration of Project Empower. Other outcomes included the incorporation of health and wellness education and training for underserved populations, expanded mental health services for refugees and victims of domestic violence in the local community, training of interns from three health service disciplines, and expanded community partnerships to provide services to underserved populations.