Clemson and Greenville Health System logosGREENVILLE — The Greenville Health Authority board (GHA) has awarded Clemson University a total of $2.66 million for diabetes prevention efforts and scholarships to increase diversity in the nurse practitioner workforce.

Clemson University’s public health sciences department and Clemson Cooperative Extension received a grant for $2.25 million to fund a diabetes prevention and management initiative, while Clemson’s School of Nursing received a grant for $410,000 to provide scholarships for nurse practitioner students.

The Greenville Health Authority board, previously known as the Greenville Health System (GHS) board of trustees, is providing the funding as part of a 20-year pledge to make Greenville County the healthiest in America by 2036. All grant recipients will be honored at a reception at 3 p.m. Thursday in the Greenville Memorial Hospital Community Room located at 701 Grove Road in Greenville.

Diabetes prevention and control

The Integrated Services for Diabetes Prevention and Management initiative is co-led by Clemson’s department of public health sciences, Clemson Cooperative Extension and GHS.

This five-year initiative connects Clemson with diabetes prevention and management efforts at Greenville Health System as well as initiatives of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, the South Carolina Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging and the American Diabetes Association.

A key component of the initiative is research collaboration between Clemson public health sciences and Cooperative Extension. The program provides a unique opportunity to track health outcomes for clients with a goal to reduce diabetes incidence and improve health status in the community, said Windsor Westbrook Sherrill, Clemson’s associate vice president for health research and chief science officer for Greenville Health System.

“This gives the Clemson department of public health sciences and Clemson Cooperative Extension a significant opportunity to work together to develop and expand our innovative programs in population health management and health extension,” Sherrill said. “The focus on diabetes management and prevention addresses a challenging health problem in the state of South Carolina and across the country.”

The initiative involves two complimentary programs to address prediabetes and diabetes. One part is a Diabetes Prevention Program led by GHS and Clemson and the other part is the Health Extension for Diabetes led by Clemson Cooperative Extension.

Both programs work to improve citizens’ health, reduce hospital visits related to diabetes and prediabetes, and provide training and employment opportunities for the emerging workforce while strengthening the relationship between GHS and Clemson University.

The Diabetes Prevention Program focuses on outreach for prediabetes patients to prevent the progression of diabetes using a program approved by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The CDC program is an evidence-based intervention that has been proven to motivate and support individuals to make practical, real-life and lasting changes, said Hannah White, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at GHS.

By focusing on healthy eating and exercise, the program addresses key county health rankings, including adult obesity, physical inactivity, access to exercise opportunities and diabetes monitoring. With a primary focus on long-term changes, the program has potential to advance community health and reduce diabetes in Greenville County.

“We are extremely excited to have the opportunity to partner and collaborate with Clemson University to deliver community-based services in an effort to prevent type 2 diabetes in the community,” White said. “Prediabetes can often be reversed through weight loss, behavior changes, healthy eating and increased physical activity. Diagnosis of prediabetes is critical, as research shows that people are much more likely to make the necessary lifestyle changes once they are aware of their condition.”

In Greenville County alone, there are an estimated 36,470 people with diabetes, which represents nearly 10 percent of the population, according to the CDC. Diabetes impacts quality and length of life. Unchecked, this condition can lead to many complications including blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, strokes and amputations.

The risks of uncontrolled diabetes make the second part of the initiative important, as its focus is on patients with diabetes in the county. Patients will be matched to a Clemson Health Extension agent to work on issues like nutrition and improving health behaviors so they will have a better quality of life.

“Diabetes prevention and management is a critical health challenge for the region. The successful implementation of this program will improve care and outcomes for people at risk for developing diabetes and for people already living with diabetes in Greenville County,” said Michelle Parisi, director of Nutrition and Health Extension Programs for Clemson Cooperative Extension.

Individuals living with diabetes can receive services at their home or at these potential community delivery sites, such as the GHS Life Center, Phillis Wheatley Association Center and Clemson Cooperative Extension office in Greenville County.

“This program builds on current health extension programs at Clemson and will significantly increase our initiatives in population health. It also furthers our mission as a land-grant university dedicated to developing research-based programs that enhance the health and prosperity of South Carolinians,” said Clemson Extension Director Thomas Dobbins.

Nurse practitioner scholarships

The Clemson School of Nursing’s $410,000 grant will provide scholarships for 10 students from under-represented backgrounds per year for the next two years through a partnership with Clemson and GHS.

“This funding will allow underrepresented nursing students to pursue their passion for healing others,” said Veronica Parker, a School of Nursing faculty member and director of Clemson’s Center for Research on Health Disparities. “For the nurse practitioner workforce, we posit that such support will be instrumental in increasing access to culturally-aligned, high-quality nurse practitioners who reflect the diversity of the patient populations in which they serve.”

Underrepresented populations are differentially impacted by health care experiences such as barriers in access, financial support for care, and racial and cultural acceptance, according to 2015 National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report.

Nurse practitioners are vital to the patients’ health care as they act as a safety net for primary care and chronic disease management for diverse, underserved pediatric, adult and older adult populations. However, according to the 2004 Sullivan Commission on Diversity in Healthcare Workforce Report, not enough physicians, nurses and dentists resemble the diverse populations around them, “leaving many Americans feeling excluded by a system that seems distant and uncaring.”

“As a population, we are becoming more diverse. While progress has been made in improving health equity and addressing and reducing health disparities, there are still racial, ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic differences in health care access and health outcomes,” said Clemson School of Nursing Associate Director Ann Wetsel. “Research has shown that when nurse practitioners have a deeper understanding of the patients and families for whom they are caring, the patient-provider relationship is enhanced, those receiving care are more satisfied with their care; and health outcomes are improved.”

School of Nursing leaders added that Clemson University School of Nursing is committed to supporting a community of scholars where diversity and inclusion are celebrated.

“The School of Nursing is pleased to be working with GHS to offer scholarships to underrepresented nurse practitioner students,” said Clemson School of Nursing Director Kathleen Valentine. “Increasing patient access to primary care is essential to addressing health care disparities for the citizens we treat.”

Those selected for the scholarships will learn from faculty mentors and preceptors in primary care practices throughout Greenville County. After graduation, scholarship recipients will work as nurse practitioners in Greenville County for the length of time they received support.

“We are grateful for this grant funding and excited about being able to offer this wonderful opportunity to nurse practitioner students,” said School of Nursing Graduate Program Coordinator Stephanie Davis.

The School of Nursing offers a Master of Science degree with specialties in family nurse practitioner, adult/gerontology nurse practitioner, nursing education and nursing administration.