Service has long been the cornerstone of Penn Medicine’s mission. Home to the oldest medical school in the nation – which celebrated its 250th birthday in 2015 – and Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751, the longstanding Quaker ethos of service is alive and well in education, research, and medical care, throughout the institution. Documenting this work is no easy task, but it’s a worthwhile pursuit to remind ourselves where we have come from, where we’re going, and who we need to join us to get there.
In this year’s edition of “Simply Because,” Penn Medicine’s annual community benefit report, which details some of the many creative ways that our clinicians, nurses, staff, and students answer the call to serve beyond their day jobs.
Today, Penn Medicine’s service efforts – from Southeastern and Central Pennsylvania to New Jersey and beyond – bring together health professionals and community partners dedicated to sharing expertise and resources to carry out collaborative solutions to public health challenges.
Here’s a quick look at some of the stories chronicled in the book:
Commitment to Area Institutions
Penn Medicine’s continues its support for longstanding community institutions that are doing critical, life sustaining work – like Prevention Point, a public health agency and the only syringe-exchange in the City and among the largest in the United States. Prevention Point distributed more than three million clean syringes in 2017 alone. The work has made a clear impact: in 1992, the HIV infection rate among injection-drug users was 50 percent. Largely thanks to the work of this group, that number has since declined to five percent.
“We operate on a harm reduction model, where we meet you where you are at,” says Brian Work, MD, a Prevention Point volunteer physician and board chair who practices at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. “We don’t judge you. We don’t care if you are using. We will treat you at our clinic or on the street and do it with humanity and respect.”
Simply Because details Penn Medicine-supported work throughout the region that provides medical services to underinsured and uninsured individuals and their families. Students, faculty, and staff from all around our institution take part, in creative ways and stretching even small amounts of money to have a big impact. Perelman School of Medicine students operate health centers around Philadelphia, such as the University City Hospitality Coalition in West Philadelphia, for example. And Chester County Hospital hosts flu shot clinics for underserved members of the community. From Central New Jersey to Lancaster, to Philadelphia, programs like these help create a patchwork of stopgap health services delivering critically needed medical care for uninsured, underinsured, and other vulnerable populations.
Promoting Healthy Lifestyles and Education
Other programs featured in the book offer ways that Penn Medicine empowers individuals to make healthy lifestyle choices. For example, Lancaster General Health teamed up with other partners in the City of Lancaster to develop a bicycle-sharing program.
“There’s a lot of research that shows we make choices based on the environment,” said Brenda Buescher, health promotion specialist at LG Health. “When we live in communities that have resources to support health, people tend to be healthier.”
In many Penn Medicine programs, service and education go hand in hand, like at the annual Philadelphia Science Festival, where hand-on learning opportunities are provided to encourage kids to develop a love of science and medicine. Two innovative Penn Medicine programs expand students’ their potential career opportunities and provide the mentorship and support needed to succeed. Penn Medicine Academy’s High School Pipeline program, with support from outside partners, offer students from high schools in West Philadelphia in paid positions throughout Penn Medicine for two years while take college courses, for which they receive Penn Medicine employee tuition benefits. The PennAssist training program puts new Philadelphia high school graduates on the job at some of the region’s most visionary building projects, while also aiming to improve workforce diversity.
Sharing Volunteer Profiles
This year’s Simply Because project also includes in-depth stories of three volunteers who are part of the Penn Medicine community. Kelly Borges is a clinical researcher who runs with homeless individuals three mornings each week through “Back on My Feet,” which helps participants gain independence and life skills. Borges took this work a step further, collaborating with Philadelphia FIGHT, a health services nonprofit, to develop “Back on My Feet to C a Difference.” The initiative provides resources for those in the group who may be living with hepatitis C or HIV.
Another spotlight is on primary care physician Carmen Guerra, MD, whose lung cancer screening navigation program is improving knowledge and minimizing roadblocks to screening for underserved patients in West Philadelphia. Guerra, whose family left Honduras when she was three years old, saw these struggles first hand early on. “The Honduras I saw as a small child showed me that in life there is a struggle against the forces of nature, poverty, violence and disease,” Guerra wrote in Philadelphia magazine. Those factors helped Guerra appreciate the sacrifice that her family made in coming to the United States and motivates Guerra to give back.
Some of the work by volunteers like Guerra is bolstered by a Penn Medicine CAREs grant. Started in 2011, the Penn Medicine CAREs grant program encourages faculty, staff, and students to apply for institutional funding to support their health-promoting service work.
One featured CAREs program this year highlights the “Elders on the Move” program from Rasheda Peoples-Starling, RN, BSN, and Sheila Anderson RN, BSN, both nurses in the Acute Care for Elders unit at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. The initiative engages elderly patients in physical and mental activities in their nursing home facilities in West Philadelphia.
“We take care of these patients in the hospital when they are sick, so it’s nice to see them in their environment when they are well,” Anderson says. “When some of them are in the hospital, we tell them we are coming to their residence. They will say, ‘Oh come see me!”
Check out our new digital website version of Simply Because!