State expands GVSU model in fight against obesity


GVSU's Louie Laker. Photo via

LANSING — State and higher education institutions are expanding a new model that bridges communications among health professions in the fight against obesity.

The Department of Community Health received a three-year, $1.5 million grant to build an innovative state model in inter-professional collaborative practice. It is the first time that Grand Valley State University’s West Michigan Inter-professional Education Initiative Model will be put in a clinic setting since it became active in 2008.

It is also the first time the model has been used outside West Michigan.

The model will be piloted in two urban, nurse-managed, primary care facilities at Grand Valley and Wayne State University, focusing on child and adult obese populations and affecting a minimum of 175 overweight or obese patients.

“Two universities both have health centers providing primary care for patients,” said Drew Murray, strategic operations manager for the council.

The universities are located in Detroit and the Grand Rapids area, where there is a high obesity rate.

The Children’s Health Access Program recently reported that among Kent County youth, 34.5 percent are overweight and 10.5 percent meet the criteria for obesity. On the other hand, 25 percent of the Wayne State University Campus Health Center patients are overweight or obese. According to Community Health, 70 percent of Detroiters are obese or overweight.

“Our society has gotten horribly unhealthy,” said Kimberly Fenbert, a nursing professor at Grand Valley.

“Our obesity rate could increase by 60 percent in the next 20 years. Michigan was one of the 10 most obese states in 2011, and this year we are in the top five. You cannot imagine how fast it is growing,” Fenbert said.

According to the 2012 Health Check Analyzing Trends in West Michigan, obesity is one of the most significant health concerns in Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan counties.

“Obesity is a serious condition that is associated with potentially life-threatening diseases like diabetes, sleep problems, hypertension, heart disease and cancer,” Fenbert said.

Fenbert said obese patients also may suffer from motivational problems, such as depression and low self-identity.

“When patients come into the office, we always need to give them encouragement education,” she said. “A person who is obese has to be willing to make a change. As a health care provider, we can give our patient information on healthy eating and information on healthy exercise.”

Obesity has such a big impact on a patient’s physical and mental health that better cooperation among health professions is needed, according to Fenbert.

“In this way, by decreasing obesity we will able to decrease those physical problems, and thus the cost of health care,” she said.

Anne Rosewarne, president of the Michigan Health Council in Okemos, said her organization is working with Community Health to deliver quality care centered on the needs of the whole patient.

Brenda Pawl, director of special projects at Grand Valley’s Office of the Vice Provost for Health, said it’s important to educate future health care workers to communicate and cooperate. She said it is a great opportunity for nurse practitioners, social workers and dieticians to work together at the university’s health center.

Pawl said as health care continues to be more complex, a new model to deliver safe, accessible, patient-centered care is essential.

“Our money will primarily be used to develop more professional opportunities to develop those communications,” Pawl said. “Additional funding from Community Health and the local health agency will pay for research and enable the projects to take what we learn across the state.”

She said the two universities are working on academic and clinical research, while the council, Michigan Area Health Education Center and Community Health are expanding the model to other pilot sites in other high-needs areas.

Murray said, “We can help the state government and its partners promote inter-professional activities beyond the two pilot sites and into more communities across the state.”

But according to Community Health, funding for that expansion is still underdeveloped.

Ann Sheehan, director of Grand Valley’s Family Health Center, said the program will use a nurse or social worker team to create individualized weight management programs for each enrolled patient.

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