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More than 320 toys were donated this year to families and children who are part of Hands to Help programs.
Associate Professor Traci Alberti formed a partnership in 2018 with the Merrimack Valley AHEC housed within the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center. Alberti, who is also the interim director of Merrimack’s campus health services and served as the director of COVID-19 campus surveillance, saw an opportunity for health science students at Merrimack to get involved in the greater community.
Alberti’s idea was to partner Merrimack nursing, public health and health science students with the local AHEC chapter to increase student community engagement and AHEC’s capacity to provide quality health care services.
“The aim of AHEC is to increase urban and rural health care workforces by placing students pursuing health care careers in the community,” Alberti said. “The ultimate hope is that they will be engaged in this work enough that they will want to continue working with these communities long term.”
At the time of Merrimack’s new partnership with AHEC, Ashley Hall was pursuing her master’s at Merrimack and working closely with Alberti as a graduate fellow.
“I am a public health nerd to my core,” Hall said. “I wasn’t having much luck getting a job with just my bachelor’s. So, in 2019, I became a full-time graduate student getting my Master of Science in Health and Wellness Management.”
Hall was the recipient of a full-tuition fellowship from the Cummings Foundation and was quickly involved in the AHEC partnership. In her first semester, Hall helped create and launch the budding AHEC Scholars program at Merrimack, which enabled a cohort of students to work closely with community members in Lawrence.
The scholars worked on promoting health literacy in the community, increasing access to health care and healthy food sources and understanding the systemic challenges faced by community members. They ran workshops, conducted research and connected with local institutions like the Lazarus House to learn directly from members of the community.
“We were among the first to pilot the Scholars program with just health sciences students,” Hall said. “I’m a firm believer that doctors, nurses and social workers don’t practice alone. Public health is so intertwined. Giving so many students exposure to what it’s like to work in these communities, the problems these communities are facing and the opportunity to not just learn these challenges from a textbook was really exciting.”
Now, two years later, Hall will take over as the new director of the Merrimack Valley AHEC.
“Ashley has a passion for health literacy, a passion for education and a huge skill set,” Alberti said. “I am expecting such great things from her and am so excited to continue to work with her. We already have big goals to enhance this collaboration between AHEC and Merrimack College.”
Alberti and Hall have their sights set on increasing access to health care services across the communities of Lawrence. This summer they each have a particular focus on increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates. They plan on getting out in the community to share resources and will organize pop-up mobile vaccination sites to address accessibility challenges. They will also investigate the systemic barriers that may make community members uneasy about receiving the vaccine.
“I recently found out I’m the first person in the country who was an AHEC Scholar that then became an AHEC Director,” Hall said. “Grateful is an understatement. I’m hoping to increase access to quality health care, reduce health disparities and also provide opportunities to students to understand these issues facing the communities in real time.”
Hall also serves as an alumni liaison and an adjunct lecturer at Merrimack. She teaches Introduction to Public Health and says she is excited to maintain her strong connection with Merrimack students, faculty and staff.
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