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Service Link at Sayre Removes Barriers to Medical Care in the Community


Service Link at Sayre Removes Barriers to Medical Care in the Community

Located at 59th and Locust, The Dr. Bernett L. Johnson Jr. Sayre Health Center is a full-service, primary care health facility serving the needs of West Philadelphia residents since it opened in 2005. Like many health care providers nationwide, Sayre focuses on promoting good health, preventing disease and offering critical primary care services that are sometimes hard to come by for low-income families. Since its founding in 2010, Service Link helps eliminate stumbling blocks to receiving comprehensive care.

Operating out of Sayre, Service Link connects low-income patients with critical social services related to home heating assistance, insurance, healthcare access and food insecurity through compass navigation for state benefits such as Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP benefits and scheduling specialty physician appointments. The hope is that if these external factors are addressed, the most effective care can be delivered to every patient.

“All these concerns directly impact health and that is why this program is so essential and health-focused at its core,” said Wendy Voet, MPH, Managing Director, Center for Public Health Initiatives, and faculty advisor at Service Link.

The program was established by Voet, Heather Klusaritz, MSW, PhD, an instructor in the department of Family Medicine and Community Health and faculty advisor to Service Link, Marjorie Bowman, MD, MPA, chair of the department of Family Medicine and Community Health, and Kent Bream, MD, associate director of Pre-doctoral Education and Sayre Medical Director. Barrett Bridenhagen, JD, a Center for Public Health Initiatives associate fellow, recently spearheaded the development of a medical legal partnership for Service Link.

Volunteers do a social needs assessment with patients who are referred to Service Link by their physician. In addition to students from the Perelman School of Medicine, students from Penn public health, students from the School of Social Policy and Practice, Penn law (who conduct “Know Your Rights” clinics and other services), and undergraduates such as health and societies majors also volunteer their time at Service Link.

Three student officers, Vishal Arora, director of information management, Monica Liu, director of operations, and Tiffany Hwang, director of outreach and training, manage the logistical operations of the program and more than 20 volunteers

Volunteers sign up for two or four hour shifts, with one or two volunteers staffing each shift. The volunteers are well versed in areas of care and services available, thanks to training from LIFT, the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, the Family Planning Council, and others from Penn and Sayre Health Center. The Center for Public Health Initiatives established Service Link and helps administer the project. The social health team at Sayre, led by Kiasha Huling, provides training, supervision and on-site management to the Service Link volunteers.

“Volunteering at Service Link is a great way to learn about the non-medical determinants of health,” said Liu, who has volunteered at Service Link since January. “These can include affordable utilities, child care, health care, disability care, legal issues, and more. We want to help bring all of these elements together so that patients receive the care they need.” 

Voet and Klusaritz organize the student leadership team and advise them on key matters, train volunteers, serve as professional links to Sayre Health Center, develop partnerships, and evaluate progress/outcomes with students.

“This program allows students to get a deeper understanding of social inequities and barriers to both healthcare access and healthy behaviors and allows them to develop a skill set in social health resources that they can apply in future professional roles,” said Klusaritz. “The program ultimately helps patients navigate the complex health system and the process of accessing quality care and access supports that they need to change the external forces that are impacting their and their children’s health.”

Now, a grant from Penn Medicine CAREs will be used to pay for transportation costs for volunteers and for training volunteers at the School of Medicine, along with other general operating costs.

As a 501c3, Sayre is a Federally Qualified Health Center made possible through a partnership between the community, Penn Medicine, and Sayre High School. Sayre’s mission is to provide clinical services to the surrounding community and health professions education to young learners in West Philadelphia.

“In a perfect world, we would triage and treat these social issues before they turn into medical concerns,” said Arora.  “Service Link aims to bridge that gap by helping in whatever ways we can.”


About Penn Medicine CAREs

Continuing its commitment to underserved communities, Penn Medicine established the CAREs Foundation Grant Program in January 2012 to support and recognize faculty, student, and/or staff efforts to improve the health of the community and increase volunteerism in community-based programs. These programs have addressed health disparities, provided care to seniors, administered free medical care to homeless in Philadelphia, helped fund medical care for uninsured and underinsured, and more.

Each quarter, the Foundation awards grants of up to $2000 per project to community and hospital-based programs on behalf of the employee(s) or Perelman School of Medicine student(s) who volunteer their time to support the program. The funding is eligible for expenses related to initiatives in community health improvement services, health professions education, subsidized health services, cash and in-kind contributions, or community building activities.

For more information and apply, please visit and read about the program at the Penn Medicine News blog.


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