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“I want Stay Steady to serve as an opportunity that’s accessible for all low-income senior citizens of Durham County,” Raney says.

Before starting Duke University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, Kelly Raney participated in a research project on falls prevention for senior citizens. The experience showed her the full impact of falls prevention classes on older adults’ quality of life: afterwards, each participant showed increased confidence and engaged more actively in senior center programs and events.

That’s why, as a 2011-12 Schweitzer Fellow in North Carolina, Raney was inspired to partner with the Durham Housing Authority to launch Stay Steady—a falls prevention program for low-income seniors in Durham County. Stay Steady was so successful that the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust provided funding to sustain it beyond Raney’s Fellowship year.

Now a practicing physical therapist in Durham County, Raney remains deeply involved with Stay Steady—which is now run by members of a geriatric interest group she established at Duke.

ASF: Why did you decide to develop your particular project?

KR: During my second year of physical therapy school, our program provided clinical practice for neurological patients in Durham County. One particular patient we were treating was consistently falling. It didn’t matter what other wonderful interventions we performed; I knew that if this patient fell and injured himself, it would completely negate all of the other positive work we had done.

As my clinic time was coming to an end, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much this individual would benefit from continued therapy as part of a wellness program geared towards falls prevention. There was no such program for local individuals, so for my Schweitzer project, I wanted to develop an educational, accessible, and low-impact falls prevention program for area senior citizens.

I partnered with a community agency that shared my interest: the Durham Housing Authority (DHA) and its JFU program, which provides in-home medical services to older adults and adults with disabilities in Durham’s public and subsidized housing facilities. We created a falls prevention program called Stay Steady and held classes at the J.J Henderson housing facility.

ASF: What do you hope will be the lasting impact of your project on the community it serves?

KR: I want Stay Steady to serve as an opportunity that’s accessible for all low-income senior citizens of Durham County. Stay Steady is being sustained through an interest group I created as part of the Duke University Doctor of Physical Therapy Program. I continue to play an advisory role, and second-year physical therapy students are now leading the weekly Stay Steady classes.

We are also working closely with DHA  program coordinators and JFU medical staff to expand the program to other DHA senior sites.

ASF: What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?

KR: There is a great need for educating and providing the public with preventive care. It is important to reach all individuals and to tailor care and education appropriately to the population being served.

Using my Schweitzer project as an example, nearly one-third of older adults experience a fall in the United States, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the most common mechanism of injury among U.S. adults age 65 and older. By providing a falls prevention program targeted to the population we served, we created an opportunity to increase awareness of falls, reduce the number of falls, reduce hospitalizations, and improve quality of life.

ASF: What was the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow?

KR: I was mostly surprised by the response I received from the Durham Housing Authority and J.J Henderson residents. I was completely taken aback by how many residents wanted the program to be sustained beyond my Fellowship year and to begin again in the fall. There were five women residents in particular who attended every single class. These women continue to be inspiring: they are stepping up to assist the new group of physical therapy student leaders, continuing to participate actively in class, and helping to recruit their peers.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see the strong interest within my physical therapy program at Duke University, both during my Fellowship year and afterwards. I was never short on volunteers, and even at times had as many volunteers as class participants.

ASF: What does being a Schweitzer Fellow (and ultimately a Schweitzer Fellow for Life) mean to you?

KR: Being part of a network of like-minded individuals who continually inspire each other to achieve more. Collaboration and continuous communication across this network helps to ensure that we as health care providers are serving our communities as effectively as we possibly can.

Click here to learn more about the North Carolina Schweitzer Fellows Program and our work to develop leaders, create change, and improve health in vulnerable communities. We are supported entirely by charitable donations and grants.