HSHP students plan meals for Central New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS
HSHP students plan meals for Central New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDSMarch 03, 2003Nicci Brownnicbrown@syr.edu
Central New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS are benefiting from a unique partnership between Syracuse University’s College of Human Services and Health Professions and The Living Room. The program, which started just over a year ago, pairs graduate student “interns” from the Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management with Living Room members, who are all infected or affected in some way by the AIDS virus. The program has been so successful there are now plans to use it as a model across the state. The Living Room is a nutrition based/social support program designed to serve the multiple needs of the Central New York HIV Community. It’s just one of four HIV-related programs provided by Liberty Resources, Inc. and is funded by New York State Department of Health/AIDS Institute.
“The program is a two way street,” says Gregg Heffner, HIV Services Program Supervisor for Liberty Resources. “The students provide specialized nutritional counseling for our members, while our members help them understand the realities – and challenges – of living with HIV/AIDS.”
The interns, who have bachelor’s degrees and at least some graduate experience, are each assigned a Living Room member receiving home-delivered meals. The intern then assesses that person’s nutritional needs, taking into account complications caused by medications and the effects of the AIDS virus itself, as well as the usual height and weight measurements. “There are many different things that might prevent a member from getting adequate nutrition,” Heffner says. “The student counselors are faced with issues such as whether a member has the income to buy certain foods, whether they have a stove that works, or if they’re even able to swallow easily. It really does give a broader picture of what a member is experiencing.”
Heffner is no stranger to SU, or to the wide-ranging benefits of internships. He earned his master’s degree in social work at the University in 2001 and, during his studies, worked as an intern at DePalmer House, which is run by Liberty Resources to provide housing for homeless people living with HIV/AIDS. His decision to return to the “HSHP-fold” for internship services therefore came as a “natural progression.” “I quickly understood the absolute value of the field placement experience while I was working on my MSW,” Heffner says. “The experiences a student can receive clinically cannot be duplicated in the classroom. The Living Room provides an environment for advancement of the academic experience, plus an opportunity to understand the importance of working with other service disciplines. Therefore, my goal was to provide an academic experience, while meeting the criteria of our grant-funded program. This relationship is definitely something that can benefit both parties.”
SU’s Debbie Connelly, RD, who is internship director for the program, says working with The Living Room also benefits the students by allowing them to function as “consultants.” The New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute requires that certain criteria be met in order for The Living Room to receive state grants. Before the SU program started, The Living Room used to contract with a registered dietitian for professional services – that service can now be done free of charge by the University’s interns under the supervision of Connolly. “The interns address issues such as food management and menu analysis,” Connolly says. “It’s important, real-life experience.”
In addition, SU interns have been working with Living Room Staff to help the program meet guidelines necessary for it to establish and operate an “on site” kitchen, which is expected to provide not only meals (which are now purchased from local restaurants), but also long-term savings. As part of the process, interns have assessed criteria such as sanitation, kitchen equipment, counter space and storage capacity. Heffner says he hopes to have the kitchen operating by summer.
The partnership between SU and The Living Room is the only one of its type in New York State, and also involves undergraduate students. Heffner says that initially some of the center’s 230 members were “leery” about the introduction of the students, fearing the loss of the center’s “safe” and “non-judgmental” atmosphere, as well as its confidentiality. However, those fears have now been well and truly allayed. “The members with concerns were pleasantly surprised,” Heffner says. “There has not been one negative comment about the students. The members describe them as open, non-intimidating, and just wonderful.”