In Fresno County alone, 75% of injuries to seniors, age 65 and older, are caused by falling. The Department of Physical Therapy at Fresno State hopes to mitigate these statistics through their Senior Awareness & Fall Education (S.A.F.E.) Central Valley Coalition program. Two times per semester, S.A.F.E. holds its quarterly balance screenings for older adults, incorporating a true inter-professional approach in order to fully treat the clients they serve.

DPT student, Collen Wooten, tests a client's balance.
DPT student, Collen Wooten, tests a client’s balance.

Formed in 2011, the mission of S.A.F.E. is to increase awareness of the physical, psychological and economic impact of falls on individuals – and to train current and future medical professionals about the importance of early screenings and intervention. Their latest balance screening, held on Sept. 16th, helped assess the strength, balance and risk for falling for 24 clients.

An important aspect of these screenings is the inter-professional collaboration among departments within the College of Health and Human Services and with California Health Sciences University (CHSU), College of Pharmacy.

“Falls are often multi-factorial and therefore require an integrated approach to identify the best intervention,” said Dr. Peggy Trueblood, founder of S.A.F.E. and chair of the Department of Physical Therapy. “Research has shown that inter-professional education (IPE) improves health outcomes in patients and enhances the students’ knowledge and skills of other health care workers. It will prepare our students for inter-professional collaborative practice.”

1The hour-long assessments, held at the Gait, Balance and Mobility Research Education and Training Center, are completed by doctoral students in the Physical Therapy program, nursing students, kinesiology students, and pharmacy students, incorporating expertise from each area. In total, 53 students from all four academic units were involved.

S.A.F.E. Coordinator Ashley Hart said this team approach is essential to reducing the risk factors of falling.

“Seldom is a fall caused by one factor,” said Hart. “Therefore the approach is to identify risk factors. In the community setting, older adults who are prone to falls due to chronic conditions require an integrated approach to care because it is impossible for one discipline to adequately identify and address all of the client care issues and risk factors of falls.”

The comprehensive screening incorporates elements from each health area, starting off with nursing students who completed a medical screening of the client, including health history, checking blood pressure, a visual check and cognitive screening.

Nursing student Elena Pena, of Porterville, has served as the student nursing coordinator for the past three years and says the experience has been tremendous to her growth as a student in the health care field.

Nursing student, Elena Pena, speaks with a client.
Nursing student, Elena Pena, speaks with a client.

“S.A.F.E. has made a huge impact on my life,” said Pena. “I think it is incredibly important to work together with other disciplines, because sometimes you are unsure of what each person does. It is much easier to trust that discipline with your patient if you know what is within their scope of practice. This enables us to really work as a team in any other health and community settings, which proves to be beneficial for our patient and everyone in the team.”

Based on the findings from the screening, nursing students continue to remain in contact with clients by providing individualized home safety visits in their residences throughout the semester.

After the health screening portion is completed, kinesiology students performed the strength testing for agility. At that time, clients also met with the physical therapy students who performed a variety of tests that screened for gait, strength, balance and leg strength. This included testing clients for functional balance, sensory impairments and motor impairments.

DPT student, Jude Xi, assists a client with a vision test.
DPT student, Jude Xi, assists a client with a vision test.

Lastly, pharmacy students completed a medication review of prescribed medications for dosage and compliance. Dr. Patty Harvard, associate dean for Student Development and Professionalization of the College of Pharmacy at CHSU, said this was not only a great experience for their students, but also aligns with their University mission.

“The S.A.F.E. screening provides the CHSU pharmacy students with a unique opportunity to apply their pharmacologic and therapeutic knowledge learned from class and interface with senior citizen patients, students from other health disciplines,” said Harvard.

Trueblood agreed, saying the addition of pharmacy faculty and student enables the program to better serve clients.

This is just one of a handful of times that the College of Health and Human Services has collaborated with CHSU since its inception in August 2014. Just recently the two universities collaborated on a workshop for 60 eighth grade students participating in the UCSF Fresno LaCMER Junior Doctors Academy. The program is for students interested in a career in medicine or allied health profession. Faculty and students from nursing, physical therapy and pharmacy gave the students and their parents a hands-on learning experience, in which they played the role of the patient, performing blood pressure screenings and tests of balance and strength. Learn more about it at the link.

Students from nursing, PT and pharmacy assess client's results.
Students from nursing, PT and pharmacy assess client’s results.

“The goal of inter-professional learning is to promote and prepare all health professional students for team delivery of care that would transform patient-centered and community oriented health care systems,” said Harvard. “CHSU and Fresno State are on the leading edge of this trend of inter-professional education and inter-professional collaborative practice being incorporated into the curriculum of health professional programs across the nation.”

Click above to view video. You can see more photos from the balance screening on the Department of Physical Therapy facebook page. 


Balance screenings are held two times per semester, with the next screening taking place on Dec. 2, 2015. For more information on S.A.F.E. or to sign up for an upcoming balance screening, contact Ashley Hart at 559.278.7539 or You can also visit