The Carnaval de Puebla parade in South Philadelphia in April is the largest of its kind outside of Mexico, the first in a series of festivals celebrating Mexican independence that culminates in Cinco de Mayo. One year not long ago, if you’d looked closely at one group of four masked Carnavaleros in South Philly, you might have spotted one who stood out by her manicured fingertips. Daphne Owen, MD’15, then a medical student at the Perelman School of Medicine, now an assistant professor of Emergency Medicine, stood alongside three Mexican-immigrant brothers. The four of them worked together at a restaurant where Owen bartended part-time and the brothers cooked and washed dishes. For Owen, donning a traditional men’s costume and joining as an honorary fourth hermano was just a part of their friendship. To an outside observer, it’s also a clue that this young physician’s ties to South Philadelphia’s Latinx community go deeper than most. That’s partly due to Owen’s compassion and personality as a connector, according to her colleague and mentor, Steven Larson, MD’88, an associate professor of Emergency Medicine. It also has a lot to do with her volunteer work with the nonprofit health center where Larson is executive director, called Puentes de Salud, which translates to Bridges of Health.
A bridge is an apt metaphor for Owen’s role as well as for the center itself—today, Puentes is much more than just a primary care health clinic. Puentes serves a Latinx immigrant community where 90 percent of the population is undocumented, and nearly 100 percent lives in poverty. As our feature story, relates, the vision that Larson had for Puentes from the beginning was to help this community connect to better health by addressing health’s underlying social determinants. And Owen, from her earliest days as a Puentes volunteer more than a decade ago, was a key part of realizing that vision and building a bridge to health by launching the first educational program at Puentes.
You’ll find bridges, both metaphorical and literal throughout this issue—as well as visionaries like Larson who see a need to cross some chasm or build a connection and commit themselves to making it happen.
A major obstacle in the health care system is the historical division between care for mental and physical health ailments— and efforts to connect across that gap are the focus of another feature story in this issue. Penn’s Psychiatry department has two programs underway that integrate mental health services into care in other specialties, both inpatient and outpatient. The department’s chief of integrated services, Cecilia Livesey, MD, envisions a future where mental health care is embedded in all kinds of medical practices, and as easy for a patient to access via another medical specialty as picking up a prescription or getting a recommended radiological scan.
Three new physical bridges (plus an underground tunnel, already completed) will soon connect Penn Medicine’s new inpatient Pavilion to the other inpatient and outpatient buildings that are part of Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) campus. Our cover story, shows how the opening of the Pavilion (also known as HUP East) in 2021 will serve as a key connective piece in a campus transformation that has been decades in the making.
Where these bridges are built, there is a new path to walk—and the stories in this issue highlight those who are leading the way.