HEAL Receives Award For Innovations in Health Literacy

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The HEAL Leadership team (from left to right): Sara Nye, Fiona Van Gheem and Executive Director Joan Peterson. (Courtesy Literacy for Life)
The HEAL Leadership team (from left to right): Sara Nye, Fiona Van Gheem and Executive Director Joan Peterson. (Courtesy Literacy for Life)

Literacy for Life’s HEAL Program recently received the National Award for Program Innovation and Collaboration from ProLiteracy, an international literacy organization.

The HEAL Program was created in 2012 with the goal of increasing health literacy among Historic Triangle residents. Low literacy adults can participate in HEAL to learn how to take responsibility for their own healthcare decisions.

The program was a natural extension for Literacy for Life due to the intimate ties between literacy and health. Literacy is a stronger predictor of an individual’s health status than income, employment status, education level, and racial or ethnic group, according to a recent news release from the organization.

The foundation of the HEAL program, which is largely funded by the Williamsburg Health Foundation, is an eight-week health education course in which students learn about medical terminology, how to describe symptoms, reading medical instructions and forms, current hot topics in healthcare and general tips and tricks for improving their overall health.

“This program helps people to know what questions to ask,” said David Masterson, president of Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center.

HEAL also attacks the problem of low health literacy from both sides by not only offering resources to low literacy adults but also providing information to area healthcare providers. Doctors, dentists and nurses can learn how to effectively communicate with their low literacy patients. They also receive information about developing reading materials for low-literacy patients and being culturally sensitive to their patients’ needs.

As the recipient of the award for Program Innovation and Collaboration, HEAL will be highlighted during the national ProLiteracy Conference on Adult Literacy in Charleston, S.C. in the fall.