WSAZ documentary sparking ideas for future generations

Published: Apr. 24, 2023 at 7:18 PM EDT
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MINGO COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - In January of 2022, WSAZ began reporting about a man with dementia who was taken to a hospital but was able to walk away and died. Now, a local school has taken WSAZ’s coverage and used it as a teaching tool in the classroom.

Those students have some innovative ideas about how to protect future patients.

At Mingo Central High School, you’ll find many students getting a jump start on their careers.

Hands-on learning is offered for a wide range of fields, from welding to business, graphic design, and health professions. Health Sciences Educator, Andrea Clark, said she always looks for ways to help her students connect with their future careers.

Her nontraditional classroom includes pretend patients waiting for the students in hospital beds. ”We’re trying to prepare them for health care, so I’ve always grabbed stuff out there that’s going to get their attention and try to make it where it’s reality for them. They can relate to it and bring it home,” said Clark.

So last year, when WSAZ ran a series of investigations on the disappearance of Charles “Chuck” Carroll - a man with documented dementia who had walked away from the hospital and was later found dead just blocks away.

One of Clark’s family members sent her our documentary on Chuck’s story, 53 Days, thinking she might be able to use some of what we found as a lesson for her students.

”Actually, my cousin she’s in college to be a P.A., she had sent me a link to it. She said, ‘You’ve got to watch this. You can use it.’ As soon as I watched it, I was like yes! We’re going to use that in class,” said Clark.

First, the 11th-grade students watched WSAZ’s stories and learned the timeline of Chuck’s disappearance.

The students got to know his sister, Brenda, and life-long friend, Debbie.

Students also learned about changes made at the hospital where Chuck was taken, as well as the introduction of purple gowns and the questions WSAZ asked state officials since Chuck was in the care of Adult Protective Services. Next, the students were split into four groups, each one tasked with taking what they learned from Chuck’s story and producing initiatives they believe could be used to improve health care for patients with dementia. One group’s answer: purple pants with a tracker. The students feel it would be harder for patients to remove than a purple gown.

Another group wants healthcare documents sent with a dementia patient to be printed on purple paper. The students say the color alone would alert staff of the patient’s diagnosis.

Junior student, Abbagayle Stiltner’s group investigated potential laws that could be put into place to protect other patients with cognitive issues. They even presented a draft bill they call, “Chuck’s Law.”

“I think that whether it be a very in-depth law or not, we need to make a law to protect these people. It needs to be in every hospital, not just West Virginia. Everywhere. These people are everywhere,” said Stiltner.

Educators say it’s an assignment that had students’ attention. ”I felt like it hit home. It was personal. It’s in our state. It’s in our back door. When something is personal you say hey wait just a minute. Maybe there’s something I can do about this,” said Mingo Central Health Science Educator, Angel Jude.

”Teenagers get distracted easily. Nobody was distracted in this. because it’s serious. Everybody wanted to know what happened to this man and why it happened. What if that was my grandpa?” said Stiltner.

For Clark, Chuck’s story hit deep. ”Having family that experiences dementia and has trouble with dementia brought it home, " said Clark.

Sager: “So this is personal for you?”

“My mom calls me three times a day to repeat the same stuff. I’m right there. I can’t imagine getting a call like they had received. And to think that we could come up with some system to prevent that from happening to someone else that’s my driving force to push that further and keep going,” said Clark.

Teachers and students are learning life lessons don’t always come from a textbook and innovative ideas can come from young, eager minds ready to give their communities the care they deserve.

“I think now they understand how serious health care is. Because it is serious. It’s somebody’s life. It’s somebody’s family. I think that this has impacted our class big time,” said Chelsie Vanatter, a junior at Mingo Central.

The students in the Mingo Central Health Science Education program applied for a grant in hopes of implementing some of their ideas locally. They recently found out they have been approved and will be receiving it soon. They have also invited lawmakers and local education and healthcare leaders to hear their ideas and research findings firsthand on Friday.