With $377,000 from the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability (TCAD), faculty and staff in the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Nursing are on the ground three days a week in six rural West Tennessee counties, offering education on the COVID vaccine to residents.
“We will meet with various organizations within the community. We might meet with a quilting club at a senior center to discuss the benefits and address misinformation or myths about COVID vaccination,” said Diana Dedmon, DNP, FNP, BC, director of Clinical Affairs and the Michael Carter Endowed Professor.
“People have gotten information about the vaccines from various sources like social media or simply conversations around a neighbor’s kitchen table. We want to offer trusted information from the Centers for Disease Control and the Tennessee Department of Health, and let people make their own decisions,” she said.
In many rural counties in the region, the percentage of people who have received two doses of vaccine hovers around 40 percent or less. Nationally, the number is 64%.
Teams of two nurses each will be in the rural communities through September 2022, building relationships through chambers of commerce, churches and civic groups in Dyer, Lake, Tipton, Lauderdale, Fayette and underserved parts of Shelby County.
Students in the UTHSC nursing program will assist with the effort this spring.
The College of Nursing is working on a similar vaccine education project with UT Extension, which is tackling the issue in five counties across the state.
“Rural health-care organizations ordinarily face unique challenges in caring for patients, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified this,” said James Dunn, TCAD executive director. “Throughout the pandemic, UT has met the call across the state, and as an institution that focuses on empowering nurses to improve the health of our rural populations, we’re proud to have them join us in caring for vulnerable Tennesseans in our rural communities and beyond.”
“The whole process has been a rich learning experience,” she said. “Counties right beside each other have completely different perspectives. It’s about knowing the population and developing a message that is appropriate to the people you are trying to serve. And we don’t know what that need might be until we develop relationships and get to know the people in each community.”