University of Nebraska Medical Center

Do JuSTIce

Do JuSTIce

Do JuSTIce

Public Health Community Advisory – Men’s Health Month each June is celebrated across the country with screenings, health fairs, media appearances, and other health education and outreach activities (http://www.menshealthmonth.org/). National HIV Testing Day is on June 27. One in five people living with HIV in the U.S. don’t know they have it. National HIV Testing Day raises awareness about how people can take the test and take control (http://healthfinder.gov/NHO/PDFs/JuneNHOToolkit.pdf). Locally in Nebraska, Do JuSTIce (which stands for Douglas County Jail Uniting with Students to Impact the Citywide epidemic) is an innovative program, through collaboration between the jail, local health departments, public health agencies, and the Service-Learning Academy of the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC). Through the program, health professions students offer sexually transmitted infection (STI) education, screening, and treatment to jail inmates, supported by jail authorities and the local and state health departments, and by UNMC faculty, who provided clinical supervision. Students coordinate all details of the program, lead and work with their peers, and use a succession leadership plan to ensure continuity and sustainability of the program that has been expanding over the past five years.

The Douglas County Department of Corrections in Omaha was the first  jail in Nebraska to be accredited by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. Its mission statement reads as follows: ”The Douglas County Department of Corrections promotes public safety by effectively managing individuals in secure custody and Community Corrections by offering programs to prepare individuals to successfully return to society.” Douglas County, Nebraska, has seen high prevalence of STIs, with Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhea rates 30% and 88% higher, respectively, than in the rest of the nation. Individuals in the criminal justice system are at disproportionately higher risk for STIs, with less access to STI education, screening, and treatment. The DoJuSTIce program was developed when leaders at the local jail saw themselves as crucial public health partners, positioned to facilitate interventions to reduce STI rates within the jail’s high-risk population, joining the effort to combat the high STI prevalence in the region. Since its beginning, the Do JuSTIce program has provided more than 2,500 inmates with education and more than 1,500 screenings. More than 400 students have participated to date, noting the following benefits to their own development—increased cultural awareness, increased self-awareness of stereotypes and biases, and increased compassion and understanding of poverty and its consequences. Strong commitment, multisectorial expertise, interprofessional practice, and effective collaboration have ensured the implementation and sustainability of the program. The program’s long-term goal is to test and disseminate best practices for universal screening in jails and assist in establishing an effective policy.

The Do JuSTIce program expanded recently to work in the youth correction facility, after winning grant support from the MTV Staying Alive Foundation (http://stayingalivefoundation.org/).

The SLA facilitates interprofessional and interdisciplinary public health learning experiences. SLA projects present an opportunity for health professions students to develop public health knowledge along with organizational, communication and leadership skills, while engaging in a real-world, hands-on experience. This is an interprofessional education and practice effort that allows students to “learn with, from, and about each other,” while serving a population in need. Students apply engagement principles and creativity to learn, serve, collaborate, and enhance their personal and professional growth. To learn more about this project and other exciting opportunities with the SLA, please contact Ruth Margalit at rmargalit@unmc.edu.

This article was written by Ruth Margalit, MD, associate professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health, and director of the UNMC COPH Service-Learning Academy.

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