By Chris Metinko
Staff Writer, Bay Area News Group

For nearly a decade, Marty Fraga has been getting her nursing students real-world experience while helping underserved seniors in the Tri-City community.

"I'm most happy with the program because not only do the seniors benefit, but it's also eye-opening for the students," Fraga said. "They get an up-close view of the state of health care in their community and what people are going through."

Fraga, a Cal State East Bay professor of public and community health in the nursing program, commits her nursing class of about 10 students every quarter to help homebound seniors.

The program started eight years ago, when Fraga joined the Fremont-based nonprofit senior group Life Eldercare and the city of Fremont to develop a program where students learning to become registered nurses pay visits to seniors.

"It truly has made a difference," said Mary Anderson, executive director of Life Eldercare. "I'm sure it's saved lives."

Fraga has no doubt of that.

In fact, a nursing student this summer discovered an irregular heartbeat in a 96-year-old woman who had said she felt fine. Fraga's program helped her get to a doctor where she was diagnosed with arrhythmia -- which left untreated could have led to a stroke.

The nursing students teach preventive health techniques, take the blood pressure of seniors, check their medications and do home safety checks. Students are paired with seniors who Life Eldercare employees determine mayneed health care help.

"They check just about everything to make sure the seniors are safe," said Fraga, who estimates her students make about 130 visits to homes every three months.

Fraga said she became aware of the need of such a service through her work with Meals on Wheels in the Tri-City area.

"You meet seniors who were getting food from the program, and they would tell you they hadn't been to a doctor in 20 years," Fraga said. "That got me thinking.

"These seniors could use some help, and I'm happy my students can provide that," she said.