Students and faculty support Free Clinic in Toledo

Getting students involved in research is a priority for Dr. Philip Welch, assistant professor and graduate coordinator for the Department of Public and Allied Health. Currently, Welch and several BGSU students are conducting research at the The CommunityCare Free Medical Clinic in Toledo. The free clinic helps people with little or no health insurance gain access to much needed health screenings, counseling, and medications. Many patients at the clinic also suffer from food insecurity (not having access to healthy, affordable food). Welch and his students are investigating ways to improve the food security among these patients.

This line of research began with the help of former masters of public health student, Elizabeth Bedell Marino, registered and licensed dietitian and coordinator for ProMedica Executive Health Program. Focus groups were conducted at the clinic during the summer of 2015 to better understand patients’ perceptions of healthy nutrition. This project was supported by a grant from the BGSU Center of Excellence for Health and Wellness Across the Lifespan. Results indicated that, when thinking about eating well, the cost of the food item and ease of preparation were the most important factors, according to patients at the clinic. Marino presented findings from this phase of research to fellow students, physicians, and academicians at the 2016 Society of Student Run Free Clinics national conference in Phoenix, AZ.

The second phase of research at the clinic began in the fall of 2016 and was informed by the focus group study. Fourth year medical students Hay Thuppal and Christopher Marino played key roles. During the summer of 2016, Thuppal arranged for fresh, locally grown produce to be delivered to the clinic every other Thursday and distributed to the patients for free. Mr. Marino and Ms. Marino made sure healthy recipes and education accompanied the free produce so that patients would know how to prepare the foods healthfully.

To measure changes in food security, Welch, along with Ms. Marino and three BGSU graduate assistants (masters or public health students Alexandra Chasteen and Michael Smith, and masters of nutrition student Emma Kett), collected survey data from patients who received the free, fresh produce. The patients were telephoned one month later and surveyed to see if any improvements in food security persisted.

The research team has collected information on over 60 patients and is currently working on analyzing the data. Welch and the students plan to present the findings at the 2017 American Public Health Association annual meeting in Atlanta, GA. In the future, Welch would like to secure grant funding to expand the fresh produce program to other agencies that serve food insecure populations. You can read more about Welch’s research in the February 2017 issue of the Journal of Student Run Clinics.

“I would like to personally thank the students involved in this project,” Welch stated. “I hope they have gained a better understanding and appreciation for how research can actually improve lives.”