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Health Literacy Project in Seattle

Article by Joanne Rich, MLIS
University of Washington Helath Sciences Library

From April 2005 through June 2006, a research project entitled “Evaluating and Promoting Health Literacy in Recovering Addicts and Alcoholics” was conducted at the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Seattle, Washington. The aim of the research project was to assess and promote health literacy in recovering addicts and alcoholics and to promote health interventions that can be integrated into the development of long-term recovery plans. A secondary goal was to share experiences and lessons learned with others working with this population in support of long term recovery.

This project was made possible through a grant from the Regional Medical Library – Pacific Northwest Region, National Network of Libraries of Medicine. Co-investigators on the project were Joanne Rich, B.S. Pharm., R.Ph. (Canada), MLIS, Information Management Librarian, Health Sciences Library, University of Washington and Michaelene Kedzierski, R.Ph., CDP, Clinical Professor and Substance Abuse Consultant, School of Pharmacy, University of Washington. The project term occurred over five academic quarters (Spring 2005- Spring 2006) of which the UW practicum convened during four of the quarters (Summer 2005 quarter was dormant).

The Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Seattle, is a rehabilitation program which helps men and women to overcome serious life problems, such as alcohol and drug dependencies. With a minimum stay of six months to one-year, the ARC program affords these men and women (known as beneficiaries) opportunities to gain insight into their problems while acquiring self-respect, and developing moral and spiritual principles of conduct and habits of industry that will enable them to gain purpose and meaning in their lives. Admission is voluntary and services are provided without cost to the participants. Program components include work therapy, group and individual counseling, chemical dependency education, 12-Step meetings, recreation and leisure activities, programs for Re-entry and Alumni Support, and bible study and chapel services. The ARC Program is a non-profit program that operates without Federal, State, County or City funding.

In addition to the ARC beneficiaries, participants in the project included UW Health Sciences faculty and students participating in a course entitled “Interdisciplinary Collaborative Teams in Healthcare – Salvation Army ARC Practicum”. This course reflects a long-standing collaboration (since 1998) between the UW Health Sciences Center for Interprofessional Education and the Salvation Army ARC, Seattle. This collaboration provides an opportunity for UW faculty and students to work together with Salvation Army ARC representatives and beneficiaries to improve the health literacy and health outcomes of the residents (beneficiaries) of the ARC. This is accomplished through provision of weekly health education seminars to the beneficiaries in each of the three quarters of the academic year (September to June). The collaboration also provides for a Health Advisory Board, comprised of UW faculty and students, and three to four beneficiaries. The Health Advisory Board provides a “real-world” opportunity to understand the interrelationship between general health and recovery from alcoholism and addiction and to develop and plan for weekly educational activities that will assist individuals in living healthy, clean and sober lives.

During the project, The UW research group assessed the level of health literacy in a subset of volunteers, conducted community needs assessments to determine beneficiaries’ most desired/needed health education topics, provided health education classes based on the needs assessments, obtained feedback on and indications of learning from the education classes, and began development of a website of resources for people in recovery. Health education topics included: Anxiety, Diabetes/High Blood Pressure, Exercise/Nutrition, Dental Problems, Financial Health, Addiction and Families, Community Resources, Mental Health, Methamphetamines, HIV, Sexually-Transmitted Diseases (STD’s), Hepatitis, and Recovery: An Inside Job (Spirituality).

During the course of the project, due to administrative and program schedule changes at the ARC, project activities at the ARC were curtailed. This prompted the search for other community organizations where educational activities could continue. Although the research activities have ceased due to the end of funding along with the administrative changes noted, educational activities will continue and be adjusted accordingly to meet the needs of the community and students participating in the practicum experience. An open line of communication continues to be maintained with the ARC and discussions are in process with another organization, the downtown Seattle Union Gospel Mission (UGM) to establish a similar relationship and pattern of activities.

This project has had a deep and broad impact. The project has heightened the awareness, directly within the ARC community as well as across the academic community of the commitment of the Health Sciences Library, the UW School of Pharmacy, the Center for Health Sciences Interprofessional Education, and the UW as a whole in support of health in this population of adults in recovery. This has increased the likelihood that members of the client community will take advantage of the resources available to them through through their health care provider, the public library, and the UW – an important step in moving the individual toward a more informed health decision and ultimately improved general health and greater likelihood of a successful and sustained recovery. Indeed, there have been many comments from beneficiaries that indicated appreciation for the importance of the role of a healthy body and mind in the recovery process. Perhaps the most important impact of this study is the appreciation that a recovering population has for the time, consideration, effort and respect on their behalf made by the UW researchers, faculty and students.

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