Enhancing a Community's Health Through an Innovative Partnership With a Public Utility Company

Sunday, 30 July 2017: 1:15 PM

Georgia Karine Crow, PhD
Adelita Cantu, PhD
School of Nursing, Office of Faculty Affairs and Diversity, UT Health San Antonio, San Antonio, TX, USA

Baccalaureate and RN to MSN Population/Public Health Nursing students partnered with a public utility company to engage in a creative method to enhance the community’s health. CPS Energy is a non-profit electricity provider, the nation’s largest, that is owned and operated by the municipality it serves. In the summer of 2015, UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing and CPS Energy engaged in a partnership to promote more environmentally healthy homes. CPS’ Casa Verde Weatherization Program is an energy efficient program designed to help families in need to reduce their monthly utility bills, to provide protection for the residents from San Antonio’s weather variances, and to act as a deterrent related to the air pollution caused by pollen allergens.

San Antonio is ranked 24th as one of the most challenging cities to live in for people with allergies. San Antonio’s summer temperatures average 95 o F (35 o C) with the warmest months being July and August. However, it is not unusual during these months for the days to range between 100 o F (37.778 o C) to 105 o F (40.55 o C) with the highest recorded to be 111 o F (43.89 o C). Winter months’ temperatures range between 17o- 36 o F (5 o – 24 o C) with the coldest days being in January and February (National Climatic Data Center, 2013, San Antonio Temperatures, 2013). With the combined issues of high temperatures and air pollution, San Antonio’s residents are subjected to environmental health risk. In 2014, The United Nations Environmental Programme identified the worst environmental health risk as air pollution. These combined health risk if not mitigated result in death, stroke, chronic conditions and allergic responses.

Since public health core functions Essential VI: Assurance ensures support for health and safety and Essential VII: Health Promotion and Risk reduction actions are to modify conditions that increases wellbeing and decrease risk of adverse health outcomes, the Population/Public Health course implemented this partnership through the clinical course. The setting for implementation was determined by identifying homes in vulnerable census tracts within San Antonio. As part of their assignment, students assessed their identified census tract using community assessment guidelines. During their community windshield survey particular attention was placed on the observed type of housing. Homes built in 1970 and earlier that contained window air condition units or no identifiable means of cooling or heating the home were identified, visually assessed, and address determined.

Once potential homes that may meet criteria for the CPS Energy’s program, Casa Verde, were identified, efforts to inform the residents about the program began. These efforts included providing the identified addresses to CPS. CPS would send a post card to the resident providing information about available programs for their homes; students would walk door – to – door to the identified homes and place plastic bag door hangers, which had more detailed information and how to access available programs, on each home (over 1400 homes to date have been identified); and students would identify through the community assessment (if they were not assigned to a community agency) an agency that would be willing to become an ongoing partner with CPS energy. This agency would host community meetings for the residents to meet the CPS representatives who would provide more information about the Casa Verde program, demonstrate how energy cost would be lowered and health and safety would be increased by participating in the program, and assist the homeowners in signing up for a one of the available programs. These community meetings would include as an incentive a free health fair or a presentation by someone who has had their house weatherized and would describe the benefits. Students in collaboration with the agencies developed process/formative program evaluation outcomes to determine success in their efforts.

This project provided CPS Energy a way to identify residential homes and contact home owners that could benefit from the Casa Verde Weatherization Program as well as provided a community venue for presenting available programs to them. Participating in this partnership allowed students to demonstrate through formative and summative evaluation their developing community assessment skills and work with agencies to promote sustainable primary prevention activities that would mitigate both weather and air polluting sequelae. The project has been instrumental in student understanding about the social determinants for health and the connection between housing and health. This understanding is critical to our future healthcare workforce to have a deeper and richer understanding of the context of where patients and community residents reside and how that impacts health outcomes and the community’s health.