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Meet the Parking Attendant Lifting Patients’ Spirits

Tommy Barbieri stands in the parking garage.

Comfort often comes in unexpected places. At Penn Medicine’s 3600 Civic Center Boulevard parking garage, just down the street from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, entrance greeter Thomas “Tommy” Barbieri provides a friendly, helpful, and calming presence for the many patients and employees who pass through each day.

From 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on most weekdays, in all kinds of weather, 32-year-old Barbieri spends the better part of his shift at the electronic ticket machine beside the parking arm, tapping the screen to print out tickets for drivers and offering a quick smile, greeting, or directions to appointments. “How are you feeling?” or “Have a good week,” he’ll say. He tries to remember faces and cars, so he doesn’t say the same thing twice. The interactions are typically brief as Barbieri is mindful of keeping the line moving to get everyone to their appointments on time, but his genuine interest in the people passing through makes a powerful impact. 

The Initial Interaction Is Key

Even though the machines are self-service, Barbieri and a small team of other greeters are assigned to the ticket machine during the busiest hours for several reasons: as a courtesy to patients and staff; to help to move the lines when there is heavy traffic; and because, while many drivers may find the machines simple to use, some patients—who may already feel stressed about getting to their appointments—appreciate the extra help.

Tommy” Barbieri greets a driver in a truck in the parking garage.
Tommy Barbieri helps drivers with directions and any questions they might have.

“Having someone to greet them, provide directions, and answer any questions that they may have, helps to ease any anxiety that they are experiencing,” said Penn Medicine Corporate Parking Coordinator Keneisha Adlam.

Knowing the parking garage may be a patient’s first interaction with Penn Medicine, compassion and customer service are embedded in the job, says Daniel Ijigu, a senior manager for REEF, the parking vendor for HUP’s garages and valet services. He says Barbieri takes the mission to heart.

“Thomas is one of the best employees that I have,” Ijigu said. “You don’t know what patients and family members are going through, and the first person they see is him. If you say, ‘Have a nice day’ or something extra, it makes the patient or family member happy.”

If Barbieri ever feels down, he has only to read the heartfelt thank-you cards covering a table in his West Philadelphia home to know that he’s making a difference:

A row of holiday and thank you cards on a table.

“Driving down for treatment over the last six weeks was not one of my favorite things. But your positive energy and smile was a bright spot in my day. You made a difference Tommy, not many people can say that.”

“Thank you so much for giving us a great start to our day.”

“Thank you for being so happy and cheerful every day … It was easy to go thru my treatment as you started it off with your smile.”

The Problem Solver

Barbieri, who has worked in the garage for about a year and a half—with several months as a shuttle driver for patients before that—intuitively understands his role as an ambassador to the health system. While he knows many people may only know him as the guy who gives out garage tickets, he’s always on alert for patients in need of assistance and feels most fulfilled when he can jump into action to solve a problem. 

He spots the woman who has been walking around the garage for 20 minutes looking for her car and offers to walk her around the garage or take her in a golf cart to find it. He hears the click of a tire with a nail or rock stuck in the treads, and has the driver pull forward while he diagnoses whether he can just pluck out the rock, or the tire needs air, or a call for a tow truck or other roadside assistance is needed. Another time, he pauses for a moment before handing over a ticket, to give an agitated driver time to take a breath before proceeding into the garage. And when a family tries to exit the garage but hasn’t realized they needed to pay before they got to their car, he does his best to minimize the inconvenience, guiding the driver into a temporary spot to use while they run to the cashier’s office.

In a few instances, he has helped coworkers push broken-down vehicles several floors down and out of the garage to be towed. 

“If I know I helped somebody or a group of people, I feel great at the end of the day,” Barbieri said. “If I do my part, I can sleep at night. They might have had a bad day, their mom has cancer, or their grandma has cancer … I’ve seen so much, and I try to make everybody’s day go better.”

While Barbieri appreciates the attention for his heartfelt service, he wants people to know he’s one of countless employees spreading a culture of kindness and helpfulness in the garage, from the cashier to the staff member directing traffic in and out of the garage, to the maintenance worker picking up trash.

“Everybody is nice around here,” Barbieri said. “It’s a whole team effort.”

This story is part of an ongoing project to highlight the everyday difference makers at Penn Medicine—those employees, from nurses and support personnel to security guards and all roles in between who make an impact each day in the lives of patients, families, and colleagues. Email us to submit a difference maker.

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