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Unity in Community

After a winter that felt like it could last forever, spring is in full swing. For some, spring means flowers (and sometimes allergies), baseball, and rain showers, but for Penn Medicine, it’s one of the busiest seasons for health fairs, 5K fundraisers, and other community events.

One of those 5K fundraisers held earlier this month was the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania’s inaugural “Nurses Week” 5K. As hundreds of nurses and friends ran to take care of their health – a commitment echoed by their participation in the American Nurses Association’s Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ Grand Challenge – their steps raised $5,000 for HUP’s Community Health Outreach Program. The proceeds increase outreach the nurses conduct already, such as CPR demonstrations, flu vaccine clinics, health literacy demonstrations, and collaborations with partner organizations. The event is just one of the many ways in which Penn Medicine faculty and staff get hands-on in the community.

Recently, nurses at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center went into the community to host a monthly health screening at the 59th Street Baptist Church, participated in health fairs at Drexel and the fifth annual Mt Zion Run/Walk Expo at 50th and Woodland Ave. The team also hosted a donation drive for toiletries for homeless individuals in Philadelphia. Next month, PPMC nurses will host their ninth annual community health fair in Saunders Park, a spring tradition that encourages local residents to adopt health lifestyle habits and be part of their community.  

“The skill set possessed by my colleagues here at Penn Presbyterian also makes them a great resource to others beyond the hospital,” said Helena D. Pittman, BSN, a trauma surgical clinical nurse at PPMC. “They are intelligent professionals who consistently exhibit vital communication skills and empathy and flexibility to make a difference outside their normal work hours.”

Elsewhere in the health system, Carmen Guerra, MD, an associate professor of Medicine, and associate chief of staff at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, and colleagues partnered with The American Cancer Society and WUVP Univision 65 last week to offer free mammograms and cervical cancer screenings to uninsured women in the area. It’s Penn’s third year participating in the “Amate a ti Misma” or “Love Yourself” event. And, a few weeks ago, faculty from Gastroenterology hosted a colon cancer awareness event in southwest Philadelphia to help residents schedule colon cancer screenings, provide education around the importance of screenings, and get any follow-up care they may need. 

Support from Penn Medicine is a critical resource to some of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable residents, and to the city at large. Three Penn experts contributed to a piece in this month’s Philadelphia magazine about the health of Philadelphians. While some numbers are improving in Philadelphia County – such as the number of coronary heart disease deaths and air pollution numbers – others are concerning. For example, 31 percent of Philadelphia County residents are obese, and the county lost more people to drug overdose deaths than any other county in the surrounding region.    

The foundation of Penn Medicine’s community efforts lies in its education, patient care, and research missions. Students receive one of the world’s most rigorous curriculums at the Perelman School of Medicine, and our faculty’s interdisciplinary research leads to new approaches to treating disease, which ultimately provides patients with most advanced, personalized care. Penn Medicine’s participation in the community is a vital component to the story of how this hub of knowledge, talent, and resources reaches beyond our institution to those who need it most.

Knowledge gained in the classroom compels medical students to serve as leaders in real-world applications in Puentes De Salud, United Community Clinic (which was recently profiled by the Penn Current), and other clinical opportunities throughout Philadelphia. A deeper connection with uninsured and underinsured residents exposes students to a broader population than they would see in a traditional clinical setting, as they deliver substantive medical care beyond taking a patient’s history and testing their blood pressure.

The Penn Medicine CAREs program was started in 2012 to support ongoing efforts by physicians, nurses, students, and staff to improve the health of those in Philadelphia, central Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Providing staff and students with grants up to $2,000, the CAREs program has allowed small programs to become much larger and foster collaboration with underfunded community groups. Some of their stories are shared on our Penn Medicine CAREs site and in our annual “Simply Because” brochure. CAREs has contributed more than $310,000 since its inception.

More than 250 programs have been funded by the CAREs grant program. Recipients participate in a variety of community engagement activities including operating free neighborhood clinics, helping patients pay for their medications, delivering healthy literacy education and mentorship to youth, handing out free bike helmets to kids, conducting medical and psychological examinations to those seeking asylum in the United States, giving out safe sleep sacs for newborn infants, and more!


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