South Providing Nurse-Led Mobile Health Units to Rural Communities


Posted on July 29, 2022
Joy Washington


Dr. Emily Bentley, an assistant professor of nursing, will be the project director for Nursing, Recruitment and Education to Expand Access to Culturally Aligned Healthcare. Funded by a $3.6 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, the program is designed to recruit, educate, train and mentor diverse nursing students to become leaders in managing social determinants of health by providing care in several rural communities and underserved areas in Alabama and Mississippi.  data-lightbox='featured'
Dr. Emily Bentley, an assistant professor of nursing, will be the project director for Nursing, Recruitment and Education to Expand Access to Culturally Aligned Healthcare. Funded by a $3.6 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, the program is designed to recruit, educate, train and mentor diverse nursing students to become leaders in managing social determinants of health by providing care in several rural communities and underserved areas in Alabama and Mississippi.

The College of Nursing at the University of South Alabama has received a $3.6 million grant to incorporate nurse-led mobile health units for outreach to rural and underserved communities.

 “The work that our nursing faculty, students and nursing professionals will do with the help of the mobile health units will address specific needs while developing a much-needed nursing workforce prepared to improve health outcomes in the rural communities and underserved areas,” said Dr. Heather Hall, dean of the College of Nursing. “It’s rewarding to know our targeted areas will have better health care based on this collaborative partnership.”

Funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, the project award will be known as Nurse Education, Practice, Quality and Retention-Mobile Health Training Program, (NEPQR-MHTP.) The project will be known as Nursing, Recruitment and Education to Expand Access to Culturally Aligned Healthcare (Nursing REEACH.)

Hall said this initiative will complement rural and underserved community healthcare providers who dedicate their careers to provide outstanding care.

“This is not an effort to compete with those providers,” she said. “Our goal is to help provide greater access to care and improve healthcare outcomes in the designated rural communities and underserved areas.”

This comprehensive program has been designed to recruit, educate, train and mentor diverse nursing students to become leaders in managing social determinants of health by providing care in several rural communities and underserved areas in Alabama and Mississippi. The grant allows South’s nursing college to integrate medical services into undergraduate and graduate programs, where students will receive necessary clinical training. 

“With this project, we are trying to train those who are studying to be registered nurses or nurse practitioners to be experts in providing and managing social determinants of health,” said Dr. Emily Bentley, project director and assistant professor of nursing. “Patients can’t focus on their health care if they have a variety of social needs that are not being met.”

The collaborative effort will include eight nursing faculty, one staff member, nursing students and community partners and resource organizations, including Franklin Primary Health Center Inc., which provides a variety of primary care services for Mobile and Baldwin counties; AIDS Alabama South, the only full-service organization dedicated to the comprehensive care of people living with HIV, supporting medical needs, financial and housing assistance, mental health counseling, nutritional support, peer groups and transportation; and Coastal Family Health Center serving Southeast Mississippi, providing primary care services. Also included are Feeding the Gulf Coast’s Mobile Pantry and Produce Drop Program, which provides nutritious food to families in rural communities and areas impacted by disaster and Feeding the Gulf Coast, and its partnership with Project Preserve to secure nonperishable food boxes for patients with diabetes. Physicians supporting the partnering health centers will be assisting with this effort.

“Our partnerships are important,” Bentley said. “We have to be able to treat the whole person, and the mobile health units are very good at doing this because they are out in the communities where the patients are living and working. Due to a lack of transportation, many of the residents of rural communities are not able to travel to brick-and-mortar sites. We will be out in the community in three different deployments per week. And, we are training our students on how to do this work and think critically in this environment.”

Bentley and her team used data collected from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Social Vulnerability Index and from the 2019-2021 Community Needs Assessment of Southwest Alabama to determine communities with the most need. 

Making sure that nurses represent a diverse population of patients is an important component of the grant.

“From our students who are studying to be registered nurses or nurse practitioners, it’s important to have students involved in this project who look like and identify with the communities they are serving,” Bentley said. “We know from research that health disparities exist, and having a diverse workforce improves the health of patients. Nurses are critical providers of patient care and have an important role in addressing inequities.”

Serving on the nursing faculty team and assisting Bentley are Associate Professor Dr. Joyce Pittman; Assistant Professor Dr. Shannon Powell-Lewis; Associate Professor Dr. Bettina Riley; Associate Professor Dr. Katherine Bydalek; Research Assistant Professor Dr. Candice Selwyn; Assistant Professor Dr. Misty Guy; Associate Professor Dr. Pamela Johnson; and Nursing Management Systems Specialist James (Caleb) Howard.

Mobile units will serve in 12 counties in Alabama – Mobile, Baldwin, Butler, Clarke, Choctaw, Conecuh, Escambia, Wilcox, Marengo, Monroe, Covington and Washington – and six in Mississippi – Greene, George, Jackson, Harrison, Hancock, and Wayne.

HRSA Statement:

This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling $3,606,932 with 0 percent financed with non-governmental sources. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government.


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