By Janell Smith
Through a combination of community engagement and experiential education opportunities, Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars become champions of their research. Vicki Mercer, associate professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences and a member of Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars class V, also supports champions through her falls prevention program, CHAMP (Community Health and Mobility Partnership).
This project helps older adults and individuals with disabilities remain as active and independent as possible. The program was the first of its kind to advance home care excellence for older adults.
Mercer has been involved with clinical practice in physical therapy for most of her career. It was her experience working with older adult patients, who are worried about falling and other mobility concerns, which inspired her to create this initiative.
“This fear [of falling] causes [some older adults] to restrict their activities, and can lead to a downward spiral of decreased activity, worsening strength and balance, increased risk of falling and greater activity restriction,” Mercer said. “The individual may stop participating in activities with family and friends and may venture out into the community only rarely.”
She added that this fear not only restricts activities, but has negative consequences for overall health and quality of life.
“I am passionate about trying to help older adults remain as active and independent as possible throughout their lives, helping them to really ‘live’ as long as they are living.”
The CHAMP program works with community partners, including senior centers, hospitals, physical therapy clinics, universities and community colleges in McDowell, Caldwell and Watauga counties in western North Carolina.
Weyland Prebor, director of the McDowell Senior Center, is a partner of the CHAMP project. He said that Mercer and the CHAMP initiative have been good medicine for McDowell County, encouraging the community to play an active part in their health.
“By bringing the CHAMP program to our community, Dr. Mercer has helped seniors become proactive in preventing their own fall injuries,” Prebor said. “Dr. Mercer has changed the lives of hundreds of senior adults in McDowell County helping them to take ownership in their own strength and mobility.”
Mercer used funds provided by the Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars program at the Carolina Center for Public Service to expand the program into Caldwell County after it received accolades in nearby McDowell County. Plans are for the program expand to other counties, including Cumberland and Hoke.
“The program specifically targets more rural areas that may not have resources for fall prevention interventions,” Mercer added.
Established in 2009, CHAMP has been well received by communities and lasted long after its initial grant funding ended. In 2010, the initiative won 2010 Outstanding County Program Award from the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. Mercer said this success and longevity demonstrates the commitment of its community partners. It also serves as an example to her students, who she hopes will develop a commitment to the individuals they serve and to lifelong learning.
“This is a wonderful synergy,” Mercer said about the community and classroom engagement.
“I have been blessed to find a career that I love (physical therapy), and I want to live out the mission of the physical therapy profession by working to enhance physical health and functional abilities among all people, including those who might have limited resources or limited access to health care.”