Tierra Hoard, BSN, RN, is driving for a healthier Milwaukee — literally.
The community outreach nurse works on the Community Care-A-Van program, a new community engagement initiative sponsored by the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network and the Milwaukee Bucks. It aims to give Milwaukee residents better access to health care by bringing medical resources and services right into the Washington Park and Lindsay Heights communities at no cost.
Those resources are delivered via the Care-A-Van, the vehicle behind the program’s name. Tierra and Edith Rowe, MSN, RN, another Froedtert & MCW nurse, drive the van to United Methodist Children’s Services in Washington Park and Greater Life Community Center in Lindsay Heights every week to administer preventive medical services, such as blood pressure checks, blood sugar testing and vision screenings. They also provide education on nutrition, weight management, heart attack and stroke prevention and other health topics. The screenings and educational resources are free, and the nurses can even help uninsured visitors get insurance if they’re interested.
“We want to build up our visibility in these communities, so when people see the Care-A-Van, they know they can get help here,” Tierra said.
A Personal Mission
A Milwaukee native, Tierra has long been passionate about promoting health and wellness in her hometown, which she knows has a need for services like the Care-A-Van. The Washington Park and Lindsay Heights neighborhoods in particular are located in an area where the rate of people living below the poverty level is three times higher than the rest of Wisconsin, making it difficult for residents to access the resources necessary for a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Tierra knows the effect of these health disparities firsthand. Growing up, she saw more corner stores selling high-fat, processed foods than grocery stores with healthier options in the neighborhood where her grandmother lived. Her grandmother struggled with type 2 diabetes for years and passed away when Tierra was nine years old.
It was hard for her to witness, but it was one of the reasons she decided to become a nurse, and it motivates her to help others make healthier choices. Many people who come to see the Care-A-Van nurses are older adults who’ve grown used to the unhealthy habits they’ve developed.
“I see a lot of the older Care-A-Van visitors as similar to my grandmother,” Tierra said. “If my grandmother had had someone like me telling her to watch what she eats or be more conscious of her portion sizes, I really do feel she could still be here.”
Educating visitors on preventable health conditions is a dream job for Tierra. In her previous nursing roles, she couldn’t devote the time to talking to patients about proper nutrition because of her other duties. In other cases, she would treat patients after they’d already been diagnosed with hypertension or type 2 diabetes. When she was offered this job, she couldn’t pass it up.
“I knew that I wanted to be in the community,” she said. “I want to see a healthier Milwaukee.”
Sparking Important Conversations About Health
Providing tangible health care services is only part of the vision behind the Care-A-Van program. It also gives people a reliable, approachable outlet for interacting with health care providers and learning how to take charge of their own health. According to Tierra, that starts with developing relationships with residents, “because you don’t want to come in like the new sheriff in town telling them what to do.”
Although the program is still a new addition to the Washington Park and Lindsay Heights neighborhoods, residents have already started to warm up to the nurses. Tierra often sees construction workers, all of whom are in their 30s and 40s, when she takes the van to United Methodist Children’s Services. One day, they decided to get their blood pressures checked, and each of their results was elevated. Some were so hypertensive that they could have led to a stroke. The men, however, didn’t seem too concerned.
“One of them said, ‘Well, my dad is in his 90s, and he’s a beacon of health. He doesn’t need any medications,’” Tierra said. “I told him that you have to realize that your body is different from your father’s, and the things you may eat are different from what your father would have eaten when he was your age.”
In the following weeks, the construction workers returned for more health advice. One even brought his friends so they could get their blood pressure checked too.
“We talked to them about drinking more water, quitting smoking and eating fewer fried foods and more fruits and veggies,” Tierra said. “The next time I was there, someone banged on the van window. I turned around, and it was one of the construction workers, and he said, ‘I brought my water this week!’”
The Next Stop for the Care-A-Van
Since the program launched in October 2019, hundreds of people have stopped by the Care-A-Van, whether they came for a blood pressure screening, health brochures or just health advice. Plans to expand the Community Care-A-Van program include traveling to more community events throughout Milwaukee, particularly in the summer months.
In addition to making a positive impact on the communities it serves, the program has also inspired the providers behind the scenes. Tierra believes her current role working in the community is her true calling. “I’m home. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
See the Care-A-Van in Person
At Greater Life Community Center: every Tuesday from 9:30 a.m.–1 p.m. and every third Wednesday from 8:30 a.m.–noon
At United Methodist Children's Services: every Wednesday from 11 a.m.–4 p.m.
For more information about the Community Care-A-Van program:
E-mail CareAVan@froedtert.com or call 414-777-2893