This past Wednesday, December 12th the Philadelphia Health Corps (PHC) played host to visitors from the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS). CNCS Chief Operating Officer Robert Velasco, Chief Financial Officer David Rebich, Deputy Chief Financial Officer Rocco Gaudio, and Bernard Brown, State Program Director for CNCS’ PA office toured District Health Center #2 in South Philadelphia. This was a great opportunity for the PHC to highlight its successful partnership with the 8 Ambulatory Health Centers run by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health – a major safe net health care provider for uninsured and underinsured Philadelphians. PHC members Jean Lee, Chase Kwon and Maraia Bonsignore spoke about their desire to give back to communities through service and their efforts to help enroll uninsured Philadelphians in health insurance and free medication programs. Dr. Tom Storey, Director of Ambulatory Health Services remarked that the 18 PHC members serving at health centers have not only helped save the city millions of dollars each year on medications for the uninsured, but they have actually expanded patient access to medications that are critical to treating chronic disease. The PHC also highlighted the service of members at other host sites, including members who are providing nutrition and fitness education to youth, coordinating health care for newly arriving refugees and offering case management services to families in Philadelphia.
To help celebrate the great American tradition of Thanksgiving with Philadelphia refugees, the Philadelphia Health Corps served at the Nationalities Service Center on one cold Saturday afternoon. The event was a buffet style dinner, complete with heaps of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and warm gravy to top it all off. Much of the food had been carted over from a local Presbyterian church, where two chefs had been cooking in a basement kitchen like their lives depended on it. The process was rough and hectic, involving boiling water, shouting, and many cups of coffee, but the results were delicious. Several Health Corps volunteers helped prepare and clean, while others struggled food down a busy street back to the Service Center, so that turkey and stuffing were always there for the next hungry mouth.
Back at the Service Center, a crowd of refugees had been forming. The air steamed with all the smells of a Thanksgiving feast mingled with the sounds of languages from around the world. Health Corps volunteers stood behind trays of food, armed with serving spoons, as a column of people readied their plates for a taste of American cuisine. The meat and vegetables disappeared quickly, though the candied yams remained mostly untouched, perhaps an acquired taste for a sweeter tooth. While the adults were still busy eating, the children participated in different activities like a cakewalk – a form of musical chairs played as dessert – and flipped through picture books that volunteers handed out. In the end, everyone left with high spirits, food in their stomachs, and a feeling that right now, giving every thanks to more peace and happiness, was a pretty good place to be. We felt that way too.
From the time they touch down in the US, the clock has begun to tick. In the first month they are vaccinated, tested, and retested for diseases I’ve only heard about in Biology lectures. They go from specialist to specialist in hopes of being properly diagnosed and treated for the many chronic, infectious, and mental health conditions that they’ve probably contracted after spending up to 20 years in refugee camps. By month four we can all but hope they are healthy enough to work and find a job, because by that time NSC can no longer afford to pay the rent on their apartments. All this leads up to the inevitable eight-month finish line, where they are no longer eligible for Refugee Health Insurance and must purchase their own. Oh, and if that’s not enough of a challenge, from day one most of the refugees cannot read, write, or speak any English.
So clearly, understanding is extremely important in my position. I find myself waiting for the universal “Ah-Ha” moment on their faces after pantomiming telephone numbers. I constantly have to remind myself not to fall for that horrible logic that simply repeating the same word louder will definitely make it more understandable. Then they look at you and say what I’m almost sure is “I have no idea what this tall skinny kid is saying but he sure looks funny.” Whoever said that communication was mostly nonverbal has never tried to explain deductibles without using words. But then it comes – the point of understanding. I’ve been sitting there for 5 minutes trying to explain, “come back next Tuesday” and dreading having to call back the phone line interpreter, when all of a sudden they nod their head and say “Tuesday!” I try to fight the urge to grab hands and jump in circles chanting Tuesday.
It’s getting easier though, and after the first few days I began finding words that most of my clients know. Now, I am starting to realize that certain groups excel or have trouble at understanding certain concepts. It’s actually quite ironic in that the more I understand the people and the cultures I am helping, the more it helps me become understood. I imagine this is what National Health Corps is really all about. By performing our service, we are not only becoming more aware of the problems faced by so many people in the US, but we are also building a foundation in which we can actually address and solve these problems more effectively in our futures.
Name: Jarett Beaudoin
Position: Refugee Health Associate, Nationalities Service Center
Degree: Global Politics and Economics, University of Tennessee
Why did you join the Health Corps: To gain an understanding of the different social and health-related problems in the US.
Favorite thing about Philly: The Museums!
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” ~Gandhi
This quotation has so much more meaning to me now that I have started my year of service in the Philadelphia Health Corps. I’ve learned so much about myself already and it’s still just the beginning!
So far it’s been a wonderful experience exploring a new city and learning a new job. My host site is the Abbottsford Falls Family Practice and Counseling Network. I work in the Dental office as a Dental Care Coordinator. I’m serving as the liaison between primary care and dental care while assisting in bridging the gap between the two and teaching patients that oral health care is connected to overall health and wellness. After all, your mouth is the gateway to the rest of your body!
Everyone at my host site is very friendly and extremely grateful that I’m here to help serve them and their patients. It’s nice to feel so appreciated and welcomed by the staff. I’ve met so many people that are willing to support me in my learning process and want to share with me things they have learned from years of working in the healthcare field. I couldn’t be more grateful for this.
We hold classes and support groups here at the health center and seeing patients come together and support each other has been my favorite part about working here so far. I’ve spoken about the importance of dental care at the Parenting classes held here at the health center to both new mothers and prenatal patients. I’ve also spoken about the connections between diabetes and periodontitis (advanced gum disease) at the weekly Diabetes support group meetings. I find this work very rewarding and fulfilling because I can directly see how this information is helping our patients. By engaging with them and answering their questions I feel like I am truly helping them. A patient who had not seen a dentist in a number of years booked an appointment after listening to me teach about the importance of dental care. Now that is helping someone in a direct way and it made me feel great! I hope to explore more Health Education opportunities throughout the year and continue to serve in this way.
Aside from my individual work at my host site, I’m really enjoying getting to know the other members of the Corps. They all inspire me to keep growing, giving back, and serving. Having that support system in place has been wonderful. It’s nice to have other members to share your experiences with, be it challenges or rewards.
I’m a member of the Service Committee and my fellow members and I have been working hard to find outside opportunities to serve the wonderful city of Philadelphia! We are scheduled to serve at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore project in December and I’m really looking forward to it. I also volunteered at the Career Wardrobe Boutique, a recycled clothing store, and had a fantastic experience with the staff there. They do some amazing work to empower women in the workforce and I found it very inspiring.
Overall my experience as a member of the 2012-13 Philadelphia Health Corps has been a wonderful learning experience and unique growing opportunity. I’m excited for what the rest of the year will bring!
Name: Melanie Wall
Position: Dental Care Coordinator
Degree: Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Northeastern University, Boston, MA
Why did you join the Health Corps: To help and serve people who need it.
Favorite thing about Philly: The view of the Ben Franklin Bridge at night.
It’s a brand new year for the Philadelphia Health Corps, and with it, a time of fresh beginnings and possibilities. For the 27 of us new corps members, our mission in the upcoming months is to tackle the health care challenges of Philadelphia’s underserved communities. Along the way, we hope to make friendships, create some lasting memories, and find our paths into the future. So join us on our journey as we discover the heart of Philadelphia, with its history and culture, its people and stories, and all the little things in between.
Name: Glamarys Acevedo
Position: Maternity Care Coalition Cribs for Kids Health Educator
Hometown: Fayetteville, NC
College: Campbell University
Why did you join PHC? I wanted to serve an underserved community while getting experience in the public health field.
What are your future plans? I want to pursue my MPH/MSW. Who knows where that may lead me–possibilities are bright and endless.
What is one thing you would change about health care? That getting quality health services was something everyone could get no matter their economic status.
Because we all want to know…
Favorite thing about Philadelphia? The diversity and how it is expressed in the food culture.
Favorite place in the city? Reading Terminal Market – noticing a food theme here.
If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Jazzberry Jam
Typical packed lunch? If I’m packing my own lunch–it’s going to be a sandwich and yogurt. If my kind co-worker(Dorothy) is packing lunch–I get to eat delicious left-overs–real food.
I get to drive a brightly colored van around the city to provide families in need with safe places for their infants to sleep and with the latest safe sleep information to help lower the infant mortality rate in Philadelphia. (A baby should always sleep in an empty crib, on its back, in a smoke-free environment!) .
Before our clients can receive a crib from our program, they must be assessed. A bulk of my office days are spent speaking with clients and assessing their needs. This process takes a lot of patience at times, especially if the clients are in a difficult mood or if English is not their primary language. I have some clients that are so happy to have someone to talk to, who isn‘t rude, that I have spent up to 45 minutes on the phone just hearing about their life story. Lesson to be learned: Kindness goes a long way, people. You never know what that small gesture can do for someone’s day.
Once clients are accepted into the program they are schedule to receive their portable cribs. Look at all those cribs!
Time to load them up! Done with a smile of course J
Ta-da 29 more cribs to go!
A majority of our clients received their portable cribs during a safe sleep workshop. Only in special circumstances are they given home visits, where I‘ve probably had the kindest clients–usually from another country, treat me with so much warmth and kindness.
During the workshop we discuss where babies commonly sleep and which of those places are actually safe for babies. The clients get the latest information on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and how they can lower their child’s risk of passing away from SIDS, or accidental death related to sleep environments. This is very sensitive information and a lot of times we have clients in the room that have had an infant(s) which has passed away or know of people who have lost a child to SIDS. We have had clients share their stories during workshop and it really hits the message home for all in attendance.
My time at Maternity Care Coalition has been a great experience that has made a meaningful impact on my life. I can just hope that I’ve made some sort of impact in the lives of the people I’ve been in contact with this year.
And with that I leave you with a quote that rings true to my year of service:
“Do the kind of things that come from the heart, When you do, you won’t be dissatisfied, you won’t be envious, you won’t be longing for somebody else’s things. On the contrary, you’ll be overwhelmed with what comes back.” -Morrie Schwartz
-Glamarys Acevedo, Maternity Care Coalition