Health Professions Mentoring Program is Changing Lives

UMKC School of Nursing and Health Studies Awarded Additional Funding for KC HealthTracks

In the summer of 2015, 17 students from under-resourced high schools in the Kansas City metro area, took their first steps on a journey toward future careers in healthcare. Now, in 2018, those students are taking another big step as they transition from high school to higher education.

They are the first cadre of students to complete the KC HealthTracks program at the University Missouri-Kansas City School of Nursing and Health Studies. KC HealthTrack’s goal is to engage students in the health-care professions and prepare them for success in health-related careers.

KC HealthTracks supports 127 high school students throughout the metro area. Participants attend a week-long summer program, where they have face-to-face faculty mentor sessions, visit health science programs at UMKC, Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley and Rockhurst University, receive math and science tutoring, and take part in ACT prep sessions. KC HealthTracks offers students career exposure to each of the health sciences disciplines offered at UMKC: dentistry, health studies, medicine, nursing and pharmacy. Enrollment for the next summer’s camp begins in spring 2019. Additional partners include Missouri Area Health Education Council, KC Area Education Research Council, the Urban League and the UMKC KCStem Alliance.

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The Power of Scholarships

UMKC Interprofessional Education Care Competition Winners


Students from the UMKC schools of medicine, pharmacy, and nursing and health studies competed in the the second annual UMKC Interprofessional Education reasoning competition.

The UMKC Interprofessional Education program conducted its second health sciences schools IPE competition late Spring 2018 at the School of Medicine. Students from the schools of medicine, nursing and health studies and pharmacy took part in the two-round, case-based competition.

The team of fifth-year medical students Joseph Bennett and Luke He and nursing student Joseph Bredvold won the first-place Emeritus Chancellor Morton Award for Interprofessional Excellence. The second-place team included fourth-year medical students Saber Khan, Zach Randall and Louis Sand, and pharmacy student Ann Lee.

A team of fifth-year medical students Kent Buxton and Christian Lamb, and pharmacy student Brad Erich, tied for third place with the team of Shannon Demehri and Hunter Faris, fifth-year medical students, and nursing student Caleb Jockey.

A panel of interprofessional faculty judged the competition based on diagnosis, treatment, pharmacotherapy, teamwork, communication and decision making. Judges for the event were Paul Cuddy, Pharm.D., Maqual Graham, Pharm.D., Cydney McQueen, Pharm.D., Eileen Amari-Vaught, Ph.D., M.S.N., F.N.P.-B.C., Doug Cochran, M.D., Jim Wooten, Pharm.D., and Emily Hillman, M.D.

2018 RN-BSN VNA Scholarship Recipients with SONHS Dean/ VNA Board member

Congratulations to the 2018 recipients of the generous VNA of Kansas City Scholarships. The VNA of Kansas City has supported students in nursing and other health professions with over $600,000 in scholarship awards since the scholarship program began- THANK YOU VNA and VNA Foundation of Kansas City- you are making a difference!

Gary Eugene Hicks, Jr. (pictured left)

Mr. Hicks is a charge nurse at the North Kansas City Hospital enrolled in his last year of the RN-BSN program. He started his career as a registered nurse in the Home Health arena and counts himself fortunate to have had the experience. The most important lesson he learned in his home care position was the importance of meeting patients at their level of understanding and comfort.

Christopher Damrat (pictured right)

Mr. Damrat is an RN in the Children’s Mercy Hospital Pediatric Intensive Care unit. He recalls his road to becoming a nurse has been a long and eventful journey and this scholarship will provide the opportunity to afford the RN-BSN program at UMKC by decreasing stress of working overtime. He looks forward to experiencing the area of home health nursing as a recipient.

Keeping Families Together As Mothers Undergo Recovery: A New Approach To Drug Dependency

The UMKC School of Nursing and Health Studies would like to commend our very own, Sarah Knopf-Amelung for the great work she is doing as an organizer of Kc Perinatal Recovery Collaborative. Read the full story below:

A day after her son Asher was born, state social workers paid a visit to Amber Johnson in the hospital. She had tested positive for meth, marijuana and painkillers during her pregnancy and, fearful she would lose her son, told them about her addiction.

“I’d never talked to anybody about it before, but I just opened up about what was going on,” Johnson says. “I was honest with them that I did have an issue and that there was also domestic violence issues going on at home, and that I was just stuck in a really bad situation.”

Three weeks later, Asher was taken into protective custody along with his sister, Indica. Johnson was devastated.

“It was the most excruciating thing I’ve ever been through in my life,” Johnson says. “I felt like my life had ended. I didn’t even feel like a person anymore. I was just like a shell.”

Since 2011, the number of Missouri infants born dependent on opioids has more than quadrupled. At the same time, the number of children entering the foster care system has increased, and experts think that’s connected to parents’ drug use.

Turning old ideas upside down

Kansas City health and social service groups are now trying to reverse these trends with a strategy that turns upside down old ideas about children and parents who’ve used drugs.

In short, they’re working to keep those families together.

After Johnson’s children were taken from her, she moved into a domestic violence shelter and entered an intensive recovery program with one goal in mind: getting her kids back.

“I basically just dedicated my life to changing my life,” Johnson says. “I had nothing else. My kids were everything to me.”

Children’s Mercy Hospital neonatologist Jodi Jackson says the birth of a child can be an opportunity for transformation, even for women who’ve used drugs for years.

“The maternal-infant bond is strong enough that that gives us our chance to get in and now we can actually do something,” Jackson says. “Don’t do it for you. Do it for your baby.”

That opportunity for transformation can be squandered, however, when the children of mothers in recovery end up in foster care.

Removal is hard on the children, too. Foster kids are at high lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and behavioral and learning problems.

Keeping families intact

Sarah Knopf-Amelung, a senior research associate at the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Nursing and Health Studies, is an organizer of KC Perinatal Recovery Collaborative, which provides drug recovery, housing, counseling, job support and education services to mothers in recovery.

“The substance use disorder we’re now seeing is a disorder,” Knopf-Amelung says. “It’s a disease. And we wouldn’t remove a child because a parent has diabetes or heart disease. So similarly, we’re advocating for trying to provide the proper treatment and recovery supports to the mother so that we can try to keep the family intact.”

It’s costly care, funded by a patchwork of federal, state and private agencies, that may be required for years.

But Dr. Jackson says the payoff can be immense. Mothers in recovery who can stay with their children are far more likely to stay sober, which can put an end to generational cycles of substance abuse.

“That’s the vision we need to have,” Jackson says. “It’s like break the cycle and we reduce the costs of foster care and state intervention and the cost of supporting a woman who’s nonfunctional. So, in the long run, it’s incredibly beneficial to do this.”

Potential for abuse

But the approach is not without risks. After all, some of the most common drugs to treat opioid addiction, like methadone, are narcotics themselves.

“There is the potential for abuse,” says Stacee Read, director of development for the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children, which aims to protect children from potential abuse and neglect that can occur when a parent uses drugs.

Treatment with methadone and other recovery drugs is usually closely monitored, but it can go off the rails.

“If mom goes to the doctor, and they don’t see her take the medication, if mom leaves there and then sells it on the street for money for something else, that becomes an issue and we do see that quite a bit,” Read says.

Read thinks programs like the one in Kansas City can work very well given the presence of treatment clinics, recovery homes and sympathetic employers.

But in many small towns and rural areas hit hard by opioids, the same kind of program can be much harder to implement.

“The parts of the country that do not have accessibility that some of the larger cities would have become a problem for families. Not only with addiction but with a lot of other things as well,” Read says.

It took three months of hard recovery work, but Amber Johnson was finally able to get her kids back.

Red-headed Asher is now 3 years old and the family lives at Amethyst Place, a recovery home in Kansas City.

Johnson is studying interior design and her family is healthy, although Johnson worries at times about whether her past drug use may have long-term effects on her son or if her recovery might falter someday.

“Do I think I’ll relapse? No,” Johnson says. “But I’d be lying if I said that that doesn’t cross my mind. I think that since I’m an addict, it’s going to be something that I’m going to live with for the rest of my life.”

But right now, all the signs point to the children and their mother being better off. They are, after all,  together.