A new partnership between Belmont Village residents and Westlake High School students has created joy, understanding and friendship.
Students in the Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA) organization, volunteered at the senior living community for a six-week internship this spring. Many also take health science classes at the high school.
Twenty-eight students volunteered twice a week for an hour each day, working with assisted living, memory care and independent living residents. They shadowed nurses, speech pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, medication aides, chefs, dieticians and a recreation director, said health science teacher Jackie Uselton.
Westlake High School graduate Jamie Smithson, who now works in community relations at Belmont Village, came up with the idea, Uselton said.
Smithson “spearheaded our increased involvement in the community,” Bradley Howell, Belmont’s executive director said. The retirement community sponsors the Eanes Education Foundation and contacted the district to find out how they could work together.
“As our population continues to age, there’s an increasing need for more people to be involved in senior care,” Howell said. “By offering opportunities to students … it opens the door for them to start thinking about a career in senior care.”
He noted that the director of Belmont Village’s memory care programs got her start in HOSA.
“Students loved their experience, as did the residents,” he said. “High-schoolers brought additional excitement to the community. It was also great for our staff to have the opportunity to share with interested young people, who truly appreciate the importance of providing care to seniors.”
According to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau demographer Jonathan Vespa, the potential for senior care is growing with older people projected to outnumber children within a couple of decades, a first in U.S. history. By 2035, there will be 78 million people 65 years and older, according to Vespa’s report.
Students interested in medical careers join HOSA, and/or take classes such as health science and medical terminology to become a pharmacy tech or phlebotomist. They can also train to become a first responder in Community Emergency Response Team: Disaster Response and prepare for a medical career by studying anatomy and physiology.
Uselton said some students are hired before they graduate to work at Walgreens and Randalls pharmacies as trainees.
“Some put themselves through college by being a pharmacy technician or phlebotomists,” Uselton said.
Westlake senior Annabelle Hodes, who volunteered at Belmont, said the health science clinicals class was her favorite high school course.
“I have always been interested in the medical field,” she said, “so when I found out Westlake offered a course where students could shadow health care professionals … I jumped at the opportunity.”
Over the past year, Hodes said she’s been exposed to various professions and healthcare facilities including cardiac telemetry, nursery, medical surgical nursing, ICU, neurology and orthopedics.
“But, my favorite place was Belmont village,” she said. “I was able to get a glimpse into the geriatric field of medicine. … I truly felt like I was making a difference in the residents’ lives.”
Hodes said she formed such strong bonds with residents that she is volunteering at the facility this summer.
“Belmont is a truly magical place that takes amazing care of their residents,” she said.
Hodes also praised Uselton for “constantly providing us with new opportunities to see surgeries and shadow doctors.”
Uselton said the program “flies under the radar.”
“Our students are smart and talented,” Uselton said. “Some join HOSA but don’t take the health classes because they want (Advanced Placement) credit instead.”
The clinical class only offers pre-AP credit.
Uselton said students must undergo drug screenings, receive a flu shot and have all vaccines up to date. They must also learn about Occupational Safety and Health Administration and health privacy standards, basic life support and CPR, among other skills. In addition, they receive legal and ethical training.
“We try to prepare them well,” Uselton said.
Belmont resident Frank Trank praised the students. “They were all very interested in being here,” he said. “It wasn’t like they had to, … They wanted to be here. It was good.”
Howell said Belmont Village intends to continue the partnership.
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