Simply Because 2019 Penn Medicine community benefit report

Making a meaningful impact in patients’ lives means meeting them where they are — with compassion, respect, creativity, and understanding.

Our region’s underserved populations — across Southeastern Pennsylvania, Central Pennsylvania, and Southern New Jersey — face economic, cultural, and language barriers to care. Homelessness, poverty, substance abuse, and lack of insurance are some of the factors that keep many of our neighbors away from health care and opportunities that could pave the way for them and their families to grow healthier and achieve their goals.

Propelled by our missions of patient care, education, and research, Penn Medicine works with its surrounding communities to foster change by cultivating and growing roots within them. Our community service mission is linked to each of these other domains, infused in everything we do. Our far-reaching programs — in settings from Philadelphia health clinics to Chester County mushroom fields and from Lancaster County bike paths to nature settings in Princeton, New Jersey — bring with them a host of expertise and passion from health professionals and community partners who share the same goal: service.

These highly motivated, creative staff, students, clinicians, and volunteers empower patients to make informed choices about their health and lifestyle — and to teach others around them to do the same. They use research-based approaches to improve services and personalize outreach efforts. And they care for our neighbors in community clinics, churches, streets, and schools... simply because.

Delivering care where it’s needed

Fulfilling the community’s medical needs means engaging our patients where they stand.

Eva Jiang, MD, an obstetrics and gynecology resident, examines a slide to make a diagnosis. Located at Pennsylvania Hospital, the Ludmir Center for Women’s Health provides high-quality health care for underserved women throughout the Philadelphia region.
Chester County Hospital employees administer flu shots for underserved members of the community.

Now in its 27th year, Prevention Point is a multi-service public health agency serving the city’s most vulnerable populations. It remains the only syringe-exchange in Philadelphia and the largest in the country, having distributed over three million clean syringes in 2017.

The program is credited with helping drive down the HIV infection rate among injection-drug users in Philadelphia from 50 percent in 1992 to five percent by 2011. More recently, Prevention Point — an independent nonprofit supported in part by Penn Medicine CAREs funding and Penn Medicine volunteers — has made a big impact battling the city’s growing opioid crisis by distributing overdose reversal kits and training many members from the city entities and libraries, and the general population, on how to administer the opioid reversal drug, Naloxone.

“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.”

Each year, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania’s Community Baby Shower offers fun and games for kids and provides health information and resources on pre/post-natal health for mothers and their newborns.

Case in point: Last year, when the city and the railroad company, Conrail, cleared out a stretch of land in the Kensington section that was home to scores of homeless drug users, not everyone made it to a shelter or treatment facility. That’s when Prevention Point stepped up to meet the challenge by opening two 40-bed homeless shelters. Additionally, it expanded its Streetside Health Clinic program, the nonprofit’s mobile vans equipped to treat infections, wounds, and abscesses, as well as test for HIV and hepatitis C.

“What we can eventually do is build up enough trust to get people to know us from the vans, and then they will hopefully come to our building for more services.”

“We’ve always had our vans, but we redoubled our efforts, to help the homeless that have been pushed elsewhere,” Work says. “It’s very aggressive community outreach that is really necessary in this extremely marginalized population.”

While in need of medical attention and substance abuse treatment, many homeless people roam from spot to spot and stay clear of clinics and hospitals out of fear of mistreatment or rejection. The street vans deliver that care to them.

“There are some chronically homeless folks who won’t go into a building, not even ours,” Work says. “What we can eventually do is build up enough trust to get people to know us from the vans, and then they will hopefully come to our building for more services.”

Bringing health care to communities serves as the foundation for many of Penn Medicine’s outreach programs — from Philadelphia to northern New Jersey to the farms out west in Chester County.

From left to right: Matthew Duda, Emily Keyes, and Mitchell Johnson, students in the Perelman School of Medicine, review a patient’s health information at the University City Hospitality Coalition student-run medical clinic, located within Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral.
“It’s really designed to be group facilitation, where they work together to resolve the issues they are having,”

Many of the 80,000 residents for whom the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) provides housing struggle to access doctors, medications, or other opportunities that might improve their health or prevent disease.

In partnership with both the American Heart Association and PHA, Paul Mather, MD, a Penn Medicine cardiologist, and his team visit PHA buildings in West Philadelphia, South Philadelphia, and North Philadelphia to perform free blood-pressure screenings and provide health information. They discuss healthy lunches and cooking with the residents, many of whom battle diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. They also provide exercise lessons and education on the importance of physical activity. Outcomes have been positive: In the wake of those visits, many people made appointments to see their doctor.

Thirty six miles away, Chester County Hospital’s National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) has been serving the area’s community members for the last six years. The year-long program helps patients make sustainable lifestyle changes to prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.

CCH became an American Association of Diabetes Educators DPP-approved site — one of only 46 in the country — to not only offer the program for patients but to train instructors to teach the curriculum. Those instructors must become certified lifestyle coaches and trained by “Master Trainers.”

The goal of the diabetes prevention program, which is now covered by Medicare, is to educate participants on making healthy lifestyle changes, such as healthy eating, increasing physical activity, and stress reduction. Making these changes results in weight loss, which in turn helps to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and of having a heart attack or stroke.

“It’s really designed to be group facilitation, where they work together to resolve the issues they are having,” says Michele Francis, manager of Diabetes and Nutrition Services at CCH. “That enables them to change their lifestyle, make behavior changes, and really focus on setting their own goals.”

Puentes de Salud volunteer clinician and Penn Medicine primary care resident Isha Di Bartolo, MD, discusses care options for a patient. Puentes de Salud is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the health and wellness of South Philadelphia’s Latino immigrant population.

Recently, thanks to a generous donation from a private foundation, the program shifted more of its efforts to the Hispanic community. Chester County is home to an underserved, growing Hispanic population, many of whom work in the mushroom farms. This community is faced with high rates of diabetes and pre-diabetes, among other diseases.

“I think it has great impact when you have a community health worker who lives within that culture, knows the food choices, knows the barriers, and is actually facilitating the group”

The effort is two-fold: Enroll community members into the 23-class program and train health workers from within that community to teach the curriculum. Since last year, two programs on diabetes prevention and weight loss have been held for members of the Hispanic community. The grant allowed for the training of 21 bilingual certified lifestyle coaches from Community Volunteers in Medicine, Maternal Child Health Consortium, and La Comunidad Hispana.

“I think it has great impact when you have a community health worker who lives within that culture, knows the food choices, knows the barriers, and is actually facilitating the group,” Francis says.

Last year, 82 percent of the patients enrolled reached their goal weight, losing an average of 17 pounds after 12 months.

“One benefit to the expansion of the program into this community is the partnerships formed between the hospital and the various agencies who serve them,” says Julie Funk, director of Community Health and Wellness Services at CCH. “I think that’s going to carry us into the future, by us all working together more, and not in silos.”

Clay Warnick, MD, of Chester County Hospital, reviews heart screening results with the county’s Regional and Central Emergency Response Teams. First responders have higher risks of cardiac events than the overall population due to stress they face on the job.

In Princeton, N.J., children are the focus of preventive health efforts. Penn Medicine Princeton Health’s annual Kids’ Marathon is a 10-week event designed to promote wellness and prevent obesity and chronic disease among children through physical activity and healthy eating education.

The goal: to encourage kids to get off their electronic devices and away from the TV, and get outside and on the move. Walk, run, roll, hop, skip, jump — any daily physical activity starts them down the road to a lifetime of healthy habits.

In the United States, the percentage of children with obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These children face greater risk of bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological issues, and tend to have obesity as adults, making them more susceptible to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and several types of cancer.

To combat that, for the last 10 years, Princeton Health has held the marathon for thousands of kids in pre-school up to eighth grade. They participate in various running activities over the 10 weeks and finish it off with a 1.2-mile run — totaling 26.2 miles.

Kids can earn miles by attending free, kid-friendly exercise, gardening, nutrition, and cooking classes offered by Princeton Health’s Community Wellness Department. The goal is to walk or run in the race or earn 25 miles. The cost is $25, but free for families for whom the cost poses a hardship.

Last year, over 280 kids participated — as young as age three.

Kelly Borges:

Hitting the ground running in the fight against hepatitis C

Around the same time Kelly Borges started her clinical research position in the Hepatology Clinic at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, she also took up running with a group in her South Philadelphia neighborhood. This wasn’t a typical running club filled with newbies or people training for the Broad Street Run.

“It definitely gets my gears turning on how else I can help with a program that I’m involved with outside of work.”

It was made up of individuals experiencing homelessness, in recovery homes and residential facilities around Philadelphia, who committed to running three mornings a week with the nonprofit organization called Back on My Feet — all there trying to get their life on track through the power of running.

The national organization, which originated in Philadelphia over 10 years ago, helps people gain independence and life skills by connecting them with essential resources and employment.

Not too long after joining the organization, something dawned on Borges.

“My first few studies here at Penn that I coordinated were hepatitis C studies, so I learned about the disease and who is at risk,” Borges says. “I didn’t really make the connection at first that the group I was running with is a high-risk group in and of itself: people battling substance abuse, formerly incarcerated, and baby boomers.”

Approximately 45,000 Philadelphians today are living with hepatitis C, and most are asymptomatic. Even more individuals may be infected but are unaware.

Borges partnered with Philadelphia FIGHT, a health services nonprofit, to develop an initiative she called “Back on My Feet to C a Difference” that provides resources for those in the program who may have hepatitis C or HIV.

Through this initiative, she aims to organize free education and testing sessions and links to care at Penn Medicine and the John Bell Health Center. With the help of the CAREs grant, she held the first hepatitis C and HIV education session last summer at the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine.

Many of the runners had not pursued treatment because of the costs and side effects associated with older drugs. And most weren’t aware of the newer, antiviral drugs — which not only have fewer side effects, but also are much more effective in curing the virus. “Now that we have safe and effective treatment options, the next step to eradicating the virus is providing access to all who are infected.”

At the education event, presenters from Philadelphia FIGHT talked about their experience with hepatitis C and HIV transmission modes, and treatments. At the event, leaders of Penn’s Exercise is Medicine chapter discussed strategies for living an overall healthier lifestyle. Exercise is Medicine is a global initiative of the American College of Sports Medicine focused on encouraging health care providers to incorporate physical activity into treatment plans. As an EIM Ambassador, Borges encourages her coworkers, co-volunteers, and classmates to find a form of exercise they enjoy and do it consistently.

“I’m thankful that Penn is willing to support a program like this,” Borges says. “It definitely gets my gears turning on how else I can help with a program that I’m involved with outside of work.”

Commitment to Care

Exercising Mind and Body

As nurses in the Acute Care for Elders (ACE) unit at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Rasheda Peoples-Starling, RN, BSN, and Sheila Anderson, RN, BSN, often take care of patients at their sickest and frailest.

But as the organizers and volunteers of Elders on the Move, they witness a whole other — more active — side of them.

The program engages elderly patients, typically 65 and over, in physical and mental activities back in their nursing home facilities in West Philadelphia. It gets them playing volleyball, solving puzzles, and swatting birdies in badminton games.

The program received its official name last year, after Peoples-Starling and Anderson took the reins from a former Penn Medicine nurse who started it in 2016.

“Sheila and I came up with the name ‘Elders on the Move’ because we look at the person’s mind, body, and spirit,” Peoples-Starling says. “We think that it’s important to keep all three of these elements in motion for better outcomes.”

Every quarter, the duo, along with other volunteers in the ACE unit, works with the activity directors at facilities like the Renaissance Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center, in the Cedar Park section of West Philadelphia, to provide residents with activities that promote wellness and socializing. Sometimes, it’s musical exercises that encourage an active range of motion. Other times, it’s mind exercises with crossword puzzles. They’ll do whatever the residents request.

Their efforts — which act as a follow-up visit in many ways — have clearly had a positive impact on the community, the nurses say.

“The residents are definitely happier; there’s a lot of smiles,” Peoples-Starling says. “They may not get many visitors, so they are actually excited for us to be coming.”

In the past, the ACE unit staff used their own money for supplies, including games, small gifts, and beauty products, but a Penn Medicine CAREs grant has helped subsidize the program.

“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!’”

And they always do.

Beyond the classroom

Senior centers. Outdoors. Churches. When it comes to teaching and motivating communities to lead healthier and safer lives, location is no limit.

Each year, Penn Medicine volunteers bring hands-on activities to the masses in West Philadelphia’s Clark Park in the annual Philadelphia Science Festival.
In Southwest Lancaster City, Lancaster General Health launched a new walking route with WalkWorks, a state program that promotes walkable communities and encourages neighborhood walking groups. In partnership with Lancaster Rec, the Boys & Girls Club of Lancaster, Community Action Partnership, and the City of Lancaster, LG Health created a 1.5-mile route beginning and ending at Farnum Park.

Debbie Millar, RN, received a phone call one day she’ll never forget. “I just want to let you know that you helped me save my son’s life,” the person on the other end of the line said. The voice belonged to a mother who had taken a free CPR class taught by Millar, the director of Community Wellness at Princeton Health.

It all happened so fast. Her son went missing, only to be spotted at the bottom of a hotel pool. They pulled him out, and she quickly jumped into action.

“She said ‘I just remember hearing your voice: Do this, do this. And because of it, I saved my son,’” Millar says. “I thought right then, it’s 100 percent worth it. We have to keep offering it every year.”

Sudden cardiac arrest remains a leading cause of death, but immediate, effective CPR can double or triple a victim’s chance of survival. Given that 88 percent of cardiac arrests occur in the home, it’s important for everyone to know it, Millar says.

“Normally, when the public has to do CPR, it’s usually on someone they know, someone they love,” she says. “They are the first link in the chain of survival.”

The free CPR classes started in 2010 as part of CPR Week, an American Heart Association (AHA) effort to raise awareness around cardiac arrest, and have grown significantly since. In 2018, they trained 1,555 community members over a two-week period — a 72 percent increase from 2017.

Every year, Millar and about 10 other volunteers go out into the community — to schools, churches, or wherever they’re needed — to conduct the trainings for people of different backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. They’ve also taught classes in Spanish and Mandarin.

“To train the community and get this out, it’s just something so valuable and so important”

“To train the community and get this out, it’s just something so valuable and so important,” Millar says. “We care about our community, and we want to make sure that people can help others in it.”

Penn Medicine’s Mobile CPR Project follows a similar mission by hosting free-of-charge hands-only CPR training sessions. The Mobile CPR team has trained over 7,700 people at more than 250 locations throughout Philadelphia since 2016. Hands-only CPR (a simple but effective form of CPR without mouth-to-mouth breaths) can double or triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival, and proper technique can be taught in under 30 minutes. The team travels to training sessions in the Mobile CPR van, bringing all of the presentation materials necessary to train members of the public.

During an Abramson Cancer Center Community Conference health fair at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Southwest Philadelphia, Penn Medicine physicians volunteered to administer screenings for oral cancer, glaucoma, hypertension, and kidney disease.

While CPR can save a life in an emergency, community health and wellness takes center stage in the battle against obesity in all communities across America. Consider the city of Lancaster.

As part of its obesity prevention strategy, the city and its partners, including Lancaster General Health, developed a bicycle-sharing program that not only provides a greener mode of transportation, but also a healthier one. Now with six docking stations and 10 miles of new bike lanes (up from just a quarter of a mile when it started in 2017), the Bike It program is soaring.

“There’s a lot of research that shows we make choices based on the environment,” says Brenda L. Buescher, MPH, health promotion specialist at LG Health. “When we live in communities that have resources to support health, people tend to be healthier. And when you live in a place that is safe and enjoyable to bike, people are more likely to bike. So, we try to do things that help make the community a better place to be physically active.”

That meant working with the city and other partners to get the program off the ground, as well as creating LancasterBikes.org, a site that serves as the educational arm for bike efforts in Lancaster. The website engages with the public about bike initiatives, how to get involved, and health and safety tips.

Today, at $2.50 an hour or a $25 annual membership, residents and tourists can cruise around the city to shop, sightsee, commute to work, or just exercise.

Bottom left: Kids at Camp Erin®-Philadelphia have the opportunity to remember a lost loved one and develop skills to cope with grief, while also participating in music, art, and other fun activities. The camp is staffed by licensed social workers/counselors and trained community volunteers. Bottom right: Historical reenactor Donah Beale brings medical instruments and discusses medicine between the 17th and 19th centuries at

LG Health sponsors a bike docking station that’s fittingly parked at Rotary Park, right across the street from LG Health’s The Heart Group, with five LG Health-branded bikes. The other stations are strategically placed around the city — from Franklin & Marshall College to lower-income areas.

“Station placement is important,” Buescher says. “The highest need for transportation is in the southern part of the city, so we knew that we should have one there. We wanted it to appeal to all income levels.”

In West Philadelphia, the front lines of the obesity epidemic are fought at the corner of 62nd and Market Streets, at West Phillie Produce. The once-vacant drug lot is now a grocery store filled with healthy, fresh food, thanks to its founder, Arnett Woodall. For the last 10 years, the store has been a place of sustenance for an area riddled with poor food choices and opportunities. The community helped build it and runs it.

It took one shopping trip for RaSean Booker to want in. A veteran from Washington, D.C., Booker moved to Philadelphia in late 2017 in pursuit of a new job. In need of fruits and vegetables, but unemployed and on a budget, Booker visited the store, hoping to buy up as much as she could with $50.

“Take whatever you want. I understand what it’s like not having a secure job,” Woodall told Booker, while thanking her for her military service. She walked away with three bags of groceries and $34 in her pocket.

“That’s when I knew I was definitely willing to work with this guy and help because he was just so generous and nice,” says Booker, who began working in Penn Medicine’s Human Resources department a few months later.

She started Eat Smart, Be Smart for the grocery store, a multifaceted outreach program that helps connect healthy foods and habits to residents in the community.

Once a week, volunteers prepare and deliver food crates, along with recipes, to the doorsteps of people around West Philadelphia who signed up for the service. They’re now also being delivered via bicycles by new hires, thanks in part to a Penn Medicine CAREs grant.

The discounted food — it’s $20 a week for a crate — comes from the store’s garden or donations from grocery stores, like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.

The program also hosts talks by chefs at the store and cooking classes at schools in the area, which Booker plans to build upon. Her goal for the program is to encourage multigenerational conversations around nutrition and ensure the store’s food and services make it to the people who need it the most.

Another program giving a boost to a new generation is PennAssist, an innovative training program that’s helping put new Philadelphia high school graduates on the job at some of the region’s most visionary building projects. A partnership between Penn Medicine, LF Driscoll, the School District of Philadelphia, the General Building Contractors Association, the Construction Apprentice Preparatory Program, the Philadelphia Building Trades Council (PBTC), and Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, the initiative started last year to train young people in the skills needed for careers in building trades. The effort is also making strides to improve workforce diversity in these crucial fields that are spurring the future of Philadelphia — one nail, steel beam, and electrical wire at a time.

Penn Medicine volunteers delivered engaging demonstrations at the carnival finale of the annual Philadelphia Science Festival.

Tarskia Chase:

From domestic violence survivor to a force for change

Three years ago, Tarskia Chase started “Sisters In Service To Edify, Restore & Support (SISTERS),” an educational workshop for others affected by domestic violence, at her place of worship, Beloved St. John Evangelistic Church in the Logan section of North Philadelphia.

The program teaches people about the different types of abuse, as well as safety and support systems available in the community for those in need, and features talks from survivors.

“I am completely passionate about SISTERS because I can put myself in women’s shoes”

“This all got started based on my own background of being a victim of domestic abuse, and just not really speaking about it,” says Chase, who works as an administrative assistant in the Emergency Administration Office at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. “I put myself in a position working daily as a single mother, while wearing a mask. To interact with me, you would never know that I carried the weight of domestic abuse in my life.”

Twelve years ago, Chase found the courage to leave the situation, together with her two young children, in pursuit of a happier, safer life — and to speak up to help others.

It was later, during her time working toward her Urban Ministry Leadership degree at Lancaster Bible College, that she developed the workshop. She then presented it to her church’s senior pastor.

“I thought it was something that was needed because it’s not a topic commonly discussed within most churches,” Chase says. “The church serves to be a lighthouse in the community in itself.”

That led Chase to present her first workshop, where she and other women in her church shared their stories. “It materialized into really being able to aid more women,” she says.

Every year, the Philadelphia Police Department receives more than 100,000 domestic emergency calls. Over the past 10 years, more than 1,600 people have died in domestic violence incidents in Pennsylvania.

Today, a Penn Medicine CAREs grant supports SISTERS — which Chase plans to use to provide emergency shelter and transportation, toiletries, food vouchers, counseling, and other basic necessities to help women toward a new life.

Chase’s latest workshop took place in October, during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It featured three speakers (all domestic abuse survivors), as well as a clinical educator of Women Against Abuse who provided a domestic violence training to the women and men who attended.

Tarskia Chase is now six years happily married to Eric Chase, with a blended family that includes their six children.

“I am completely passionate about SISTERS because I can put myself in women’s shoes,” Chase says. “I speak life into a situation and let them know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Commitment to Care

Planting Roots to Make Hope Bloom

Tending the gardens at the Little Sisters of the Poor’s Holy Family Home is so much more than beautifying the grounds for the long-term elderly facility in the Kingsessing section of Southwest Philadelphia. It’s a therapeutic and emotional reprieve for the residents who live there.

“When an elderly person goes into a new residence, it can be very disorienting and make people anxious,” says Mary Coniglio, an improvement advisor in the department of Penn Value Improvement. “I see that the garden brings back so many memories of what they did throughout their life. It also brings a calmness to the residents and a sense of comfort.”

“A few residents have been tending to the gardens throughout the years. This grant enabled us to bring it up to another level”

Last year, Coniglio, a volunteer at Holy Family Home and avid gardener, used a Penn Medicine CAREs grant to improve the gardens in and around the facility with input from the staff and residents.

Bright flowers greet visitors at the front door. A side yard garden with a swing gives residents fresh air and serenity. Mums and petunias line the pathways and surround the gazebo. Having raised vegetable beds, filled with peppers and tomatoes this past fall, makes it easier for residents to partake.

“A few residents have been tending to the gardens throughout the years. This grant enabled us to bring it up to another level,” Coniglio says.

Horticulture therapy has been shown to improve the quality of life and mood in the aging population by reducing stress and encouraging social interaction, among other physical and mental benefits.

“It’s not just about putting a flower into the soil,” Coniglio says. “It’s physical activity. It’s looking forward to the future. It’s creativity. It’s them working together.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor — which celebrates its 150th anniversary of service to the elderly poor of Philadelphia in 2019 — cares for up to 97 low-income residents and offers three levels of care at Holy Family Home: apartment living, assisted living, and skilled nursing for residents who need advanced care.

With 30 homes across the United States staffed by over 300 sisters, these facilities have maintained a philosophy of respect and dignity for their residents since the first home was established 180 years ago by St. Jeanne Jugan in France.

“We seek to create a loving and nurturing atmosphere of family for our residents, which assures them that they are important and that their lives matter,” says Sister Veronica Susan of the Little Sisters of the Poor. “The gardens provide beauty and the familiarity of home life to our residents as they continue their journey here. When we have someone like Mary, who takes interest in trying to be a part of our family, helping us with the gardens, it’s so edifying, so moving for us.”


Research drives many of our outreach EFFORTS to the right place — and steers them along the way way.

The Community Engagement Core provides research information from the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology’s research team to the community to improve public health. From left to right: Jessica Meeker, now a PhD student at Penn, and Michael Anderson, Superfund research program coordinator.

Laura Henry’s journey to medicine began on Wall Street. She left a finance job to volunteer in a medical clinic for the homeless where she solidified her passion for health care and was first introduced to low-resource medicine. Shortly after, she found herself at the Perelman School of Medicine pursuing that passion to help people.

Now a fourth-year medical student, Henry feels like she has come full circle with a new program she created called ListenUp! aimed at helping underserved youth suffering from hearing impairments and adults with risk factors for head and neck cancer.

She came up with it while working with the ear, nose, and throat (ENT) teams in the department of Otorhinolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. That experience put her in the thick of top-level care, but it also opened her eyes to the disparities affecting populations in the hospitals’ backyards.

“What does ENT care look like on the borders of the hospital?” Henry asked. “Do these problems affect minority groups across West Philadelphia?”

She started talking to school nurses about their hearing tests and found either a lack of resources or that children were falling through the cracks because nurses didn’t know what to do with students after they failed the tests. Many were likely mislabeled or misdiagnosed with a behavioral disorder, Henry says.

For more than 30 years, the Camden Street Ministry has provided food, clothing, and shelter for people living in the city’s streets. Every Saturday, those in need can go to two of the ministry’s trucks, filled with donations of clothing and food that are parked in empty lots in Camden, N.J.

She first began working with an audiologist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to put together a fact sheet on how schools could screen children for hearing loss, and what to do if they fail. Henry then trained

50 medical students to perform audiology assessments using two of the medical school’s audiometers. Now clinics are armed with the equipment for Penn students to do hearing tests on the spot. According to Henry, mentors within the ENT department, Steve Cannady, MD, and Michael Ruckenstein, MD, and CHOP pediatric attending, Cindy Christian, MD, have been integral in bringing this project to fruition.

A second phase focuses on adult head and neck cancer, which also disproportionately affects minority groups living in West Philadelphia. Medical students learn about the risk factors, like smoking, alcohol use, and HPV-positive status, and how to do a proper head and neck exam in the clinics to catch it.

“I have come to really love research during my time at Penn. I was aiming to combine my interests in research and community service in moving this project forward. As such, I used the literature to choose areas of care that disproportionally affect low-resource populations,” Henry says. “I also wanted to tackle issues that once diagnosed, we could do something about it.”

Henry says that as the project continues to expand, they will collect data on the program’s utility for using resources most effectively in the community clinic setting.

That same approach informs many of the free health service clinics and programs across Philadelphia, like the Homeless Health Initiative and University City Hospitality Coalition Clinic.

Data doesn’t just help guide patient care in underserved communities. It directs education efforts too.

“That combination of shared identity and intrinsic altruism is incredibly powerful”

There’s an imbalance of African-Americans and other minority groups in medicine today. They represent

more than 25 percent of the total population, yet only 10 percent of health professionals. And while the percentage of African-American women graduating from medical school has increased since the late 1980s, the number of men has significantly declined, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Helping to close that gap in Philadelphia, the Penn Medicine Academy’s High School Pipeline Program aims to give underserved students a better chance at pursuing a career in medicine and health care. It places students from high schools in West Philadelphia in paid positions throughout Penn Medicine over two years to help them work toward a career in health care, while taking college-level courses along the way.

The program is supported by Penn Medicine, as well as outside partners, including the Lenfest Foundation and Howley Foundation. Since it began in 2010, more than 270 students have participated in the program, and 100 percent of them have graduated high school.

The lessons learned from Penn’s IMPaCT (Individualized Management for Patient-Centered Targets) program have not only guided outreach work in the Philadelphia area but across the country. IMPaCT trains community health workers (CHWs) to help high-risk patients navigate the health care system and address key health barriers, such as housing instability, trauma, or food insecurity.

Developed in 2011 by Shreya Kangovi, MD, MS, an assistant professor of Medicine and executive director of the Penn Center for Community Health Workers, the model has been accessed by over 1,000 unique organizations and institutions. And for good reason: Studies have shown that IMPaCT improves both patient experiences and health outcomes, while reducing total hospital days by 65 percent.

“For me, as a doctor, coming from middle class background, I didn’t really know what it was like out there to face some of the struggles [many people in the community experience],” Kangovi says. “I thought it would be silly for me to pretend that I did or lecture them on how to address those issues. Instead, it would be more logical to put community members in the lead position.”

These “natural helpers” share common backgrounds with patients, like race, ethnicity, income, education, and language, she says.

“That combination of shared identity and intrinsic altruism is incredibly powerful,” she adds.

Since 2011, over 7,500 high-risk patients in the Philadelphia area have been helped by the program. The Penn Center for Community Health Workers employs about 55 people, most of whom are CHWs living in the same neighborhoods as the patients they serve.

In the past year, the program has expanded within Penn Medicine to include patients with a broader array of chronic health conditions, including infectious diseases, sickle cell and depression, and also added CHWs to care teams at Pennsylvania Hospital.

The sky is the limit for future growth of the program, Kangovi says.

“We are really doing a lot to make sure we are well integrated with the clinical teams, serving their needs, and being responsive to the health care system and the community.”

Carmen Guerra:

Closing the lung cancer screening gap

For Carmen Guerra, MD, MSCE, a problem is always the starting point from which to build.

It was a shocking statistic on lung cancer screening rates that set her into motion: Just four percent of the seven million heavy smokers eligible for screening were screened two years after a 2013 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation. And the numbers haven’t budged much since.

“You can see we have a long way to go, so for me that was the problem that needs solving,” she says.

Guerra, an associate professor of Medicine at Penn and associate director for Diversity and Outreach in the Abramson Cancer Center, is creating a Lung Cancer Screening Navigation program for underserved neighborhoods in West Philadelphia to help close that gap locally. But first she needs to address a barrier faced by many in this community: the shared decision-making mandate. To cover the cost, payers, including Medicare, require doctors to first discuss the benefits and harms of screening with a patient.

“The truth is, that has been really difficult to implement in real life,” Guerra says. “Many doctors haven’t been trained on it, and may not know how to do this well, like how to convey the right amount of information to the right patient at the right level.”

Or it doesn’t happen at all.

To help initiate a more efficient and effective conversation, Guerra sought out and studied a tool called ShouldIScreen.com developed by researchers at the University of Michigan. Patients engage with the tool before seeing their clinician to learn more about screening and lung cancer.

“We like this online tool because it’s very visual and not a piece of paper, which helps overcome literacy issues,” Guerra says. “It actually gives you a very personalized risk of lung cancer, and not an average risk.”

“The truth is, that has been really difficult to implement in real life,”

Using a Penn Medicine CAREs grant, the researchers tested the tool in 40 underserved patients from the Penn Lung Center, and found that it increased knowledge about lung cancer screening and decreased decision conflict. “Whichever decision they choose, we think it’s the right answer for them,” she says.

The next phase of the project will expand the number of patients and study the tool’s impact on screening rates. The program also aims to assist patients with appointments, SEPTA fare, or a translator, if need be.

“The shared decision-making tool is one step towards building our vision,” Guerra says, “which is to build a navigation program for helping to guide more people who decide to be screened.”

Commitment to Care

Taking Aim at a Silent Killer

Undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania are making a meaningful impact where surrounding communities need it the most.

The work of 102 students from the Penn Kidney Disease Screening and Awareness Program, or PennKDSAP, is a prime example.

Thirty million Americans suffer from chronic kidney disease (CKD), according to recent estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the vast majority of them don’t know it. Within the black community, the numbers are even more worrisome: While black individuals only have a slightly higher prevalence of CKD than white individuals, they are three times more likely to be on dialysis.

Driven by that data, students and nephrologists from Penn Medicine, including Mary Ann C. Lim, MD, and Yonghong Huan, MD, have been conducting free health screenings and consultations at churches and community centers around West Philadelphia.

“We have a lot of organizations at the University dedicated to helping people in need medically, but this is unique because instead of people coming to us, we go out to their communities and provide the services,” says Karthik Prabhakaran, a senior studying biology and health care management and co-president of PennKDSAP. KDSAP is a national, student-run organization founded in 2008 by a Harvard Medical School physician.

For two years, Penn Medicine CAREs grants received by Stephen P. Yang, MD, and Lim, have allowed the club to purchase equipment and medical supplies for the screenings.

Since it began in April 2017, PennKDSAP has screened over 300 community members, many of whom are underinsured without consistent access to primary care. Because of that, their kidney disease, as well as diabetes and hypertension, often goes unnoticed and unchecked.

High amounts of protein in the urine typically indicate kidney disease, Prabhakaran says.

“From there, it is about following up with a nephrologist to confirm if a community member has kidney disease, and if so, what is the approximate stage of their kidney disease,” he adds. “Later stages involve kidney failure and likely mean you have to go on dialysis or get a transplant, and that’s what we are trying to prevent.”

If there’s an indication of disease, physicians discuss next steps with community members, including full blood work. Patients also receive information on how to follow up with social workers and complimentary clinics.

“It feels great to be a part of it because when you come to college, you are just taking these classes and you are really focused on yourself,” Prabhakaran says. “But with this program, you can see a larger impact.”

About Penn Medicine CAREs

Penn Medicine faculty, staff, and students throughout the organization donate their time and expertise to provide countless hours of work to improve the health and well-being of the communities we serve. The Penn Medicine CAREs grant program was established in 2011 to offer institutional support to these individuals and programs in the form of grants — awarded quarterly — that can be used for the purchase of supplies and other resources needed to perform this important work in the community. To date, more than 400 projects have received funding. For information on additional outreach initiatives at Penn Medicine, click here.

By the numbers

Giving back

  • $ 279.7 M Charity and underfunded care for Medicaid families
  • $116.1 M Physician training support
  • $129.7 M Research support and community health
  • $1.75 M Raised by Penn’s Way campaign
  • FY18 Total $527.25 M

Emergency department visits

  • 62,309 Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
  • 38,002 Pennsylvania Hospital
  • 47,184 Penn Presbyterian Medical Center
  • 45,161 Chester County Hospital
  • 117,591 Lancaster General Health
  • 49,321 Penn Medicine Princeton Health
  • FY18 Total 359,568
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