EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — A partnership between Marshfield Health Clinic System and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is aimed at helping those who have difficulty affording or accessing health care.

The Community Connections Team program has helped almost 3,200 residents in west-central Wisconsin since it launched in April 2015, the Leader-Telegram reported . Program participants learn about how to live healthier lives and about resources to help them do so.

"Through this program, we have an opportunity to make a very real, long-lasting positive difference in people's health outcomes," said Trevor Begin, the program manager.

More than 40 percent of residents in the area face financial challenges that imperil their health care access, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The program also helps students gain experience in medical and dental fields, with 19 students volunteering through the program this semester, including Katelyn Kleutsch, a senior biology major at UW-Eau Claire.

"There are so many things that can have a negative impact on someone's health," Kleutsch said. "You hear about the different challenges people face; then you try to help them find a solution and improve their health."

Students call individuals who've been identified as needing assistance and helping them in a variety of ways, such as scheduling doctors' appointments or connecting them to community services.

The program gives students a theoretical understand and hands-on experience with how social health factors can affect a person's health, said Ruth Cronje, a UW-Eau Claire University professor.

"This program offers students a consciousness that stays with them," Cronje said.

The program is funded through a $1 million, five-year grant from the Wisconsin Partnership Program administered by UW-Madison. Funding will allow the program to expand to other locations.

"What we are doing is making a difference and we want to expand that reach," Begin said.

Begin said he hopes to spark discussions with public health officials and other stakeholders to find ways to remove barriers to health care access.