At the end of a quiet and unassuming neighborhood street in Pontiac, Michigan, a red-brick church stands forlorn. No sign indicates whether the tired building continues to hold Sunday-morning services; however, it respectfully stands erect. It’s here that I met Misa Mi on a warm October morning last fall. As the Director of Curriculum Evaluation and Associate Professor of Biomedical Sciences at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, as well as the school’s health information specialist, she received a GMR grant in 2016 to fund a health literacy project for the HOPE Recuperative Care Center, a non-profit, short-term, skilled-nursing facility. Launched in 2015, the HOPE Recuperative Care Center is the only place in Michigan that provides a safe and dignified space for homeless persons being discharged from the hospital to recover from a physical illness/injury/surgery or stabilize from an exacerbation of a chronic condition.
Dr. Mi kindly greeted me and then walked us to the side entrance. It took a couple minutes before the overnight janitor opened the locked door and escorted us up a dimly-lit, short flight of stairs to what was formerly the sanctuary. The church still retained its vaulted beamed ceiling, organ wall chimes, and stained glass windows. However, now replacing the pews were ten iron-framed bunk beds neatly arranged in rows each with a curtain for semi-privacy. The choir loft stored boxes of health supplies.
From a location where I imagined was once a pulpit, Deborah, the facility nurse manager, received us. Standing next to a single desk with a large MAC computer and laser printer, we exchanged introductions before she launched into a description of the health literacy project.
“All of the guests have been trained on the computer,” she said looking at the modern machine sitting strangely out of place in the low-tech environment. “Misa did a wonderful job making it user friendly. The level is understandable for all of our guests. We’ve had people say, ‘I don’t even know how to turn on a computer,’ but after the training, they are able to look up health information for themselves. Then they start asking questions, ‘How do I get an email?’ It’s great to see their self-esteem grow.”
With her National Network of Libraries of Medicine award, Dr. Mi worked with Mitchell Roe, OUWB Medical Library Technology Specialist, to purchase the computer, printer, and other peripheral devices. Then she aggregated easy-to-read and trustworthy MedlinePlus health information on topics such as wound care, frostbite, bug bites, diabetes, asthma, and depression: conditions and diseases that homeless people encounter all too frequently. With her customized, easy-to-access Google website developed with the assistance of Annette Healy, Dr. Mi dedicated her time to train staff and guests. She also mentored an OUWB medical student, Sameen Ansari, who joined Dr. Mi in planning and providing information literacy training as part of Sameen’s community-based research project.
At the time I visited HOPE, 23 clients, both guests and staff, had been surveyed. Health literacy scores improved 75% between the pre and post training questionnaires with clients indicating that MedlinePlus was now a primary source for finding health information. Dr. Mi’s ultimate goal of the outreach project was to help reduce homeless patients’ visits to hospital emergency rooms by developing their skills in finding and using trustworthy health information from the National Library of Medicine and other health professional organizations.1 She seemed well on her way to achieving her goal.
You can read Misa Mi’s HOPE Recuperative Care Center Project Report as well as learn how to apply for your own NNLM funding opportunity to improve access to health information, increase engagement with research and data, expand professional knowledge, and support outreach that promotes awareness and use of NLM resources in local communities.