EMPOWER will provide health education, medical screenings, and women’s clinical services to women who have been affected by domestic violence, in an effort to help raise awareness of and commitment to control of personal health and well-being.
The idea for EMPOWER originated in 2008 with a group of medical students (class of 2011) under the ICE Service Learning Project (SLP) curriculum. It was selected for implementation and funding from a pool of 21 other service-learning projects. Additional members were then recruited from all disciplines to create the inaugural interdisciplinary EMPOWER board.
The founding principle behind EMPOWER is to address the healthcare disparities of women affected by domestic violence. This population represents a unique niche within the healthcare system because many of its members have access to health insurance and medical services but nonetheless receive insufficient medical attention. One reason for this is that many abusers exert physical and/or financial control over their partners. Additionally, women fleeing violent situations often avoid medical attention out of concern for insurance reports or office bills finding their way back to an abuser. Thus as these individuals are technically covered by insurance they are unable to access services at many community clinics that serve only uninsured patients. Furthermore, women who are victims of domestic violence tend to be selfless and survival-focused while placing care for dependents (i.e. children or animals) as a main priority. Diminished feelings of self-worth also contribute to an apathetic attitude toward personal health. As a result of all of these factors, self-care of the domestic violence victim often suffers.
In an effort to address these issues locally, EMPOWER forged a partnership between the Inter-professional Service Learning Academy (UNMC College of Public Health) and the WCA of Omaha. Founding members of EMPOWER were then given the opportunity to speak with local victims of domestic violence in an effort to identify the primary areas of healthcare concerns. At the top of the list was access to free-of-charge medical services including mammograms, blood pressure checks, pap smears, pelvic exams, body mass index, glucose and cholesterol readings, and STI and pregnancy testing. There was also great interest in education on topics such as diabetes, diet and metabolism, exercise, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and herbal supplements.
The EMPOWER board developed educational workshops and basic health screenings tailored to the needs of this group of women. Following completion of this background work the first EMPOWER session at the WCA was held in October 2009. In 2011, EMPOWER began working with the Bridges to Opportunity Program. Since its first session, EMPOWER has provided workshops and screenings to over 60 women of the Omaha area.
The next step is for EMPOWER to establish a free-of-cost well-woman clinic for female victims of domestic violence. This clinic will address the unique healthcare situation of these individuals by providing free-of-cost care regardless of insurance coverage. Finally, this clinic will be specific to well-woman services, though referrals will be offered for additional services.