Community Health partners with Gainesville Housing Authority

Although the COVID-19 pandemic continues to present challenges, students in the UF Doctor of Physical Therapy program continue to adapt and overcome the obstacles that come their way with some exciting new opportunities to partner with community organizations.

When businesses started closing in March, the Community Health REACH group paused their Gator Balance Classes that were held at the Alachua County Senior Center. It temporarily closed because the participants were over the age of 65 with potential health-related comorbidities. The Community Health student members in the DPT Class of 2022 brainstormed options to still provide resources for socially isolated older adults.

Group class at the Gainesville Housing Authority led virtually by the students in the Community Health outreach group.

Second-year DPT students Brooke Bland, Casey Jackson, and Lindsey McKishnie spearheaded the creation of newsletters to provide residents information about fall prevention, sleep hygiene, and physical therapy which have been distributed along with the meals delivered by Elder Care, providing community resources and health tips reaching approximately 150 older adults.

Over the summer semester, Kim Dunleavy, PhD, PT, OCS, clinical professor and director of Community Engagement, was actively seeking opportunities to serve the Gainesville community and was introduced to Danielle Butler from the Gainesville Housing Authority, or GHA, by Caronne Rush, MSM, MEd, EdS, assistant director and lecturer in the UF Health Office of Interprofessional Education.

Students from the COVID-19 Student Service Corps and the Community Health group co-directors, second-year DPT students Marisa Kastner and Claire Wilhoite, met with Danielle to establish what the needs were in the GHA community. The Exercise Bingo sessions grew from the needs expressed for community activities for socially isolated individuals while using the GHA community center that can house up to 10 people while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

Group class at the Gainesville Housing Authority led virtually by the students in the Community Health outreach group.

“It has been an amazing partnership,” said Danielle, who is a Community Advocate at GHA. “The ability to make a fun activity out of something as important as physical therapy is a great experience I think for everyone.”

The GHA provides affordable housing for Gainesville families and offers life resources and opportunities for their residents and community. Through GHA, Danielle connects residents with resources that increase their economic empowerment, self-sufficiency, and quality of life.

As a social worker who was told to quarantine and not be around residents, Danielle said the coronavirus forced her to think outside the box to find ways to keep community members safely active. Stepping outside of the sphere of her usual resources, she tapped into opportunities that were presenting themselves through UF student groups, thus connecting with Community Health.

The students wanted to create an interactive space with the residents to perform exercises through a fun, socially distanced, group activity. That’s when Danielle explained that bingo has always sparked an interest with the residents, so the students created chair exercise bingo.

 “Working with the participants has been amazing,” said Monique Deveaux, a second-year DPT student and Community Health member. “The participants are motivated, they engage, and are always so grateful for our help.”

The Community Health class leaders – Monique Deveaux, Brandon Coons, Liv Dewey, and Tori Wyche – demonstrate and lead chair exercises over zoom with faculty guidance from Rachelle Studer-Byrnes, PT, DPT, NCS, clinical assistant professor and assistant director of Clinical Education, and Dr. Dunleavy, as first- and second-year DPT students observe the participants and assist with class feedback.

Group class at the Gainesville Housing Authority led virtually by the students in the Community Health outreach group.

During the 40-50 minute Zoom sessions, the students push for high energy and devise fun and creative ways for the participants to remember certain exercises. The exercises are assigned to a number which participants record on their bingo cards, and once they hit bingo, they receive prizes such as pedometers and fanny packs, with the goal of encouraging them to exercise and increase activity at home. They also provide key tips and the newsletters initially created for the Senior Center.  

At one of the five sessions held over the semester, Monique told the participants that ‘you could be a synchronized swimming team’ because they were all in sync, and they all laughed and mimicked the movements. “It’s moments like that, that bring up the energy levels of the room and encourage them to continue,” she said.  

Each session includes a warm-up, stretching and strengthening exercises, and a mindfulness cool down.

The participants are primarily older individuals and a number of them have physical disabilities or medical conditions. At the last session, there were new and returning participants and the largest turnout of eight people, reflecting the enthusiasm felt in the community.

Group class at the Gainesville Housing Authority led virtually by the students in the Community Health outreach group.

Danielle is the key facilitator on the ground and strategically prepares the GHA center so that all of the chairs are socially distanced and each participant has an additional chair to prop their clipboard and bingo sheets on while they perform their exercises. She logs onto the Zoom meeting and connects the students with the participants. She has provided the critical linkage and knowledge that has enabled the initiative and continues to be a central pillar for the partnership.

In the fourth class, participants used TheraBands for resistance and in the final class prior to Thanksgiving, the group collected money to buy rice bags and food cans, which were used for resistance during the class and then contributed to Thanksgiving preparations afterwards.

When the students introduced the resistance bands, Danielle could see how the progression of the exercises were benefitting the residents and making them stronger. There were times when she would step in to assist with the placement of the bands, help individuals who are hard of hearing, or just being their cheerleader if they needed to hear ‘you’re doing a great job.’

This new partnership has generated excitement and engagement among the residents at GHA, but also for the students who are excited to be able to work with GHA residents in the spring semester.

“This experience has exposed and enlightened me to the communities that could greatly benefit from the services of Community Health,” Monique explained. “Being a part of this REACH group has also improved my leadership, adaptability, and creativity skills. Working with GHA and engaging with the participants has been nothing short of amazing.”