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Media Release, Health & Wellness

McMillen Health: Adapting Services to a New Reality

A community staple for years, McMillen Health provides needed health education and curriculum development for those they serve. Learn how McMillen adapted and innovated through the pandemic, growing services like distance learning to meet educational needs.

Nicole Fairchild of McMillen Health standing beside Informational CenterNicole Fairchild, MPA, MBA Executive Director, McMillen Health

McMillen Health, founded in 1981, is recognized as the number one resource for health education in Northern Indiana and their reputation is growing. As one of only four independently operated health education centers nationwide, they are also recognized as the oldest health education center in the United States. Their services reach nearly 90,000 students annually, with a mission of providing vital, effective preventive health education that promotes physical, emotional, and social well-being. Their reputation has been built on providing fact-based preventive health education, which has allowed them to use their staff expertise to offer low-literacy curriculum development and video production to other organizations statewide and nationally.

McMillen Health is located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and their services have largely involved providing more than 200 preventive health education programs to thousands of students annually in various formats, including:

  • In-House: Students travel to the McMillen facility for field trips
  • Outreach:  McMillen’s professional health educators travel to schools and organizations within 150 miles of Fort Wayne, IN
  • Live distance learning (DL): Virtual field trips, provided globally through a video communication platform, streamed from McMillen green-screen studios
  • E-Learning: Recently developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

McMillen Health had to make quick and expansive adjustments to their delivery model during the pandemic, including focusing their energy on how to reach students remotely. Delivering these services quickly, efficiently, and without undue expense to their organization and those receiving services was the primary goal.

Nicole Fairchild has been with McMillen Health as the Executive Director since 2015. Her prior role as the Executive Director of the Greencastle Housing Authority equipped her well for financial difficulties and pivoting when necessary. Due to mismanagement from previous leadership at the Housing Authority, Nicole led the efforts of repayment to HUD for misappropriated funding while also addressing funding cuts from sequestration at the federal level. Her experience in overcoming financial obstacles and always taking challenges head-on, allowed McMillen Health to not only survive the pandemic but to thrive with new partnerships nationally.

When the reality of COVID struck, Nicole had two enormous tasks—to quickly mobilize her team and to innovate a new, strategic service delivery model. This was complicated by the need to transition rapidly—from in-person to a nearly 100% virtual environment. Here’s the story of how she and her innovative team adapted their new reality.

Forced to scale

Nicole Fairchild says, “When the 2020 school year started in August, we were inundated with requests for E-Learning. McMillen had become very proficient in E-Learning experiences when COVID-19 forced school closures. Within one week of school closures in March of 2020, we had adapted 10 in-person programs to an E-Learning format. By May of 2020, 52 programs had been adapted, allowing McMillen to serve more than 9,000 students in the spring of 2020 with an innovative, E-Learning model.”

McMillen Health virtual education

Making use of space

With only two operational distance learning (DL) studios at the time, Nicole knew McMillen could not meet the increasing demand for E-Learning and DL programs, so it was evident they would have to add more studio space to meet requests for this programming format. Through the generosity of donors, McMillen was able to add four mobile green-screen studios to their existing teaching theaters. Simply put, a “green screen” lets a video editor add background images behind actors, or in this case, health educators. Green screens are used in film production and also in news and weather reports to place a desired background behind the subject. McMillen Health uses green screens which allow students to view the educator and the presentation at the same time, on screen. McMillen Health has been providing DL since 2012, but not on the scale necessary to meet the growing national demands during the pandemic.

McMillen Health also quickly renovated a former inventory room into a multipurpose room. This allowed the room to be used for programming, a DL studio, and lunch overflow once students returned to the facility. With the additional mobile green-screen rooms, McMillen educators served 37,594 children and adults through live DL in 2020-2021, a 697 percent increase from 2019-2020 fiscal year.

While providing programming in this format, McMillen learned they could serve up to 400 individual connections at one time, allowing up to 400 students learning from home to connect to a single program at one time! McMillen discovered this capacity when broadcasting an I Need My Teeth virtual school assembly to 397 K-2nd graders who were all learning from home in Detroit, MI and Cincinnati, OH. It was a revelation—and McMillen suddenly realized how they could scale their services exponentially.

McMillen virtual learning using a greenscreen to record content

Expanding programming

McMillen Health’s professional health educators have adapted 85 percent of McMillen’s 200 programs to a live DL format, while learning how to manage various green-screen studio equipment. They have also developed training videos for each program, and added new programs to address COVID-19 and mental health issues and concerns. New programming includes:

COVID-19 Programs: Be a Germ Genius for grades K-2, Coping with COVID for grades 3-5, Going Viral for grades 6-12, and Conquering COVID for adults. Each program reviews the importance of regular handwashing, explains a pandemic, and teaches the importance of maintaining a positive attitude to support mental health.

Mental Health Programs: Mood Monsters for grades K-2, Hooked on a Feeling for grades 3-5, Mind-Full of Stress for grades 6-8, Social-Emotional Smarts for grades 9-12, and Keys to Happiness for adults (Coming soon: Mini Mood Monsters for preschool). Each of these programs reinforce positive relationships, how stress impacts the mind and body, and its role in social and emotional health.

Developing new resources

Since 2012, McMillen Health has developed low-literacy health education curriculum, text messages, videos, social media posts, and content to promote their programs and services. In the last five years, they have started offering these services and assets to other organizations, and the program has grown, coast to coast, including: California’s Riverside County Department of Health, University of Michigan’s School of Dentistry and Depression CenterJohns Hopkins School of Medicine in Maryland, Delta Dental Foundation of MichiganDelta Dental Foundation of Virginia, and Delta Dental of Missouri. Their reach continues to expand as their name is shared with other organizations seeking low-literacy health education. This expansion of services has not deterred McMillen Health from their roots, as they continue to focus on health-related concerns in Northeast Indiana.

In December 2020, McMillen received final funding to begin the development of a specialized mobile app for pregnant or recently pregnant women with opioid use disorder (OUD) whose babies are born with (or at risk of) neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).

McMillen Health’s 2018 community assessment report In Her Words found women with OUD and the professionals serving them desired low-literacy education on OUD, NAS, and other topics for better understanding. Also, the preferred method of education was video format—easily accessible from a mobile device.

McMillen has developed more than 20 videos, a training guide, and content for the app, which launched November 1, 2021. It is being piloted by Allen County, Indiana women and professionals. An incentive program associated with the app encourages users to participate in exchange for “badges,” or rewards that can be redeemed for baby supplies.

Nicole Fairchild and Chrissy Stephan of McMillen Health discuss health related contentNicole Fairchild, Executive Director and Chrissy Stephan, Director of Educational Resources, McMillen Health

PHP and McMillen Health: Building a healthy tomorrow

McMillen Health continues to expand its footprint throughout the state of Indiana. In the last year, expansion included Blackford, Elkhart, Fulton, Jay, and St. Joseph Counties. As McMillen continues to go the distance with live DL, they are building new relationships with schools in multiple counties and states, with a goal to continue to expand nationally.

The statistics are impressive – in 2020-2021, McMillen Health provided 2,088 preventive health education programming sessions, reaching 64,830 students of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. Just over 55 percent, or 35,780, of these students received programming at no cost through the generosity of their donors and funders. McMillen is extremely grateful for their supporters and the community that supports them.

McMillen continues to provide preventive health education to students where they are and develop low-literacy curriculum, videos, and media because they believe in education today, for a healthy tomorrow.

PHP and the PHP Foundation support organizations that promote community health and well-being, and have staff members who serve on the board of directors in support of McMillen Health and their mission.

To learn more about McMillen Health, go to: McMillenHealth.org

Or contact Nicole Fairchild, Executive Director:  nfairchild@mcmillenhealth.org or 260-456-4511, ext. 310. McMillenHealth.org