Co-Lin students give back

Published 12:02 am Sunday, September 4, 2011

By Alex Allain

NATCHEZ — Students from Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s Natchez campus marked the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with a special tribute to New Orleans last week.

Monday, the practical nursing students spent the day volunteering at the 2011 New Orleans C.A.R.E. Clinic.

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The Communities Are Responding Every Day Clinic, in the Ernest N. Moriel Convention Center, provided free basic medical treatment and health education to uninsured residents.

“I am so proud of this group,” said Melinda Pritchartt, practical nursing instructor at the Natchez Campus.

Pritchartt attended the clinic with her students.

“They were on their feet all day and attended the event at their own expense.”

The nursing students worked for seven hours, undertaking various roles as needed, including taking patients’ vital signs, coordinating client intake with doctors and nurses and helping with patient registration. One student served as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking clients.

Students said they were surprised by the number of uninsured persons at the event.

The clinic coordinators anticipated treating 1,200 people during the course of the day, and the Co-Lin students had seen more than 800 patients by 4 p.m.

“It was like a M.A.S.H. unit,” Pritchartt said. “There were metal poles attached with fabric screens serving as patient rooms within the Convention Center.”

Some students directed a flag system involved with this triage work.

“My job was to let the flaggers know when a nurse triage station and provider station was open,” student Rebecca Hayes said.

Besides the health care given by medical volunteers, the C.A.R.E. Clinic provided an extensive range of services. Patients could receive kidney disease screenings, EKG testing, vouchers for mammograms and mental health treatment provided by psychiatrists and psychologists.

Uninsured residents were also eligible to receive free prescriptions. Co-Lin student Samantha Stark said that 300 walk-ins had arrived for prescription assistance within the first hour.

Several of the students recalled the gratitude of the recipients.

“I remember one man who wasn’t saying much to the doctor during his visit. He seemed really nervous,” Donna Pell said. “He asked how much his prescriptions were going to cost, and when he was told they would be free, he became emotional. I became emotional. The people were so grateful for services.”

The Co-Lin students said the experience was a lot of work, but it was worth it.

“Compassion is the key to success,” said Delacy Jones-Parker of Liberty. “Unless you want to do it, you won’t be able to.”

The Practical Nursing Program at Co-Lin Natchez became involved with this service opportunity through the recommendation of Teresa Busby, vice president of the Natchez Campus.

Busby is the sister-in-law of Nicole Lamoureux, the executive director of the National Association of Free Clinics, which sponsors these free health clinics. Busby volunteered at a previous C.A.R.E. Clinic. Pritchartt enthusiastically accepted Busby’s suggestion.

“(The clinic) was a wonderful opportunity for students to get experience in a diverse setting and give back to the community,” she said.

Students in the Practical Nursing Program are required to complete 67.5 hours of clinical training.

Their reasons for volunteering went far beyond the academic requirement, though, they said.

“It was like paying it forward. It was eye-opening,” said Jamie Coles of Meadville.

The students took pride in their school’s contribution to the event.

“We were all very happy that Co-Lin’s LPN program gave us the chance to help so many people,” Timothy Isbell said.

The students agreed that volunteers and patients mutually benefited from the experience, and several students said they hope to attend another C.A.R.E. clinic in the future.

“It was a wonderful and life-changing experience, and I would love to go again,” Tonya Shell said.