Service at Squirrel Hill Health Center

Going into my service year with National Health Corps at Squirrel Hill Health Center (SHHC), I was unsure how my role as an AmeriCorps member would impact patients. SHHC is a federally qualified health center that provides care to a diverse set of individuals. Over the past three months, I have been able to witness the unique services SHHC is able to offer and reflect on the value AmeriCorps members add to serving SHHC patients. I have also been able to reflect on my position as a patient support specialist on the mobile unit. The mobile unit is a medical unit that aims to increase access to primary care services in the Pittsburgh community by removing the transportation barrier to healthcare. A key figure helping me navigate through my position is my site mentor, Katie Fitzsimmons.

Katie has her Master of Social Work and has been at SHHC for about six years. She is the Manager of Care Navigation, a role that encompasses social work services, care coordination, and advocacy for patients and the care coordination team. Having been a mentor to AmeriCorps members for several years, she has a good understanding of the value a year in AmeriCorps has on the population we serve as well as on the member. On a day to day basis it can be hard to see the bigger picture of how your service impacts the patient because many of my meaningful interactions with patients are over the phone. I decided to sit down and interview Katie to help clarify the broad impacts of my service.

How does my specific role on the mobile medical unit benefit patients?

Katie:  Beyond the obvious of coordinating their care, such as scheduling their referrals, making follow-up appointments, and answering questions about social services, your specific position creates a personal connection between the patient and the health center that the patients may not have if your mobile unit position didn’t exist. Having an AmeriCorps member on the mobile unit normalizes the act of seeing a doctor. [Patients] are able to come on the unit and see a familiar face every time, and even when you are not on the mobile unit, they can follow up with you via phone at the health center.

Do you think these patients would be reached if the AmeriCorps members did not serve here?

Katie:  Specifically for your position, the mobile unit is able to remove some of the barriers the SHHC patient population face and really increases access to care for those who are unable to get to a health center. Your position on the mobile unit helps tie the team on the mobile unit to those back at the health center together. More broadly, the AmeriCorps members help the health center to go above and beyond the breadth of services they are able to provide to the patients.

How do you think past members have benefited from the service that they provided?

Katie:  Medicine isn’t just science, but is an interaction between science, systems, [and] organizations, among other things. In this position, you really get to see how not just science, but the interactions of all these things affect the patient. Past members have been able to see the reality of the barriers that individuals face trying to receive medical care. This position is unique because the members get to have one-on-one interactions with patients, which gives them the opportunity to learn how to really understand people. Personally, I do not think many people going into healthcare get this unique opportunity to interact with a diverse patient population and come to an understanding of the countless barriers these individuals face trying to receive care.

Lastly, any advice for me or future members?

Katie:  My advice is to make as many connections as you can. You are in a unique situation where you have deep access to many professionals that you can learn a lot from. Lastly, I always like to say this to our AmeriCorps members. Not only do you give to the patients but you also bring a lot of energy and fresh ideas to our staff here at SHHC. Many of us have been in this profession for a long time, so fresh energy and ideas help to keep us inspired to continue the work we are doing and [help our] patients.

Katie really believes that this position is beneficial to anyone who wants to go into a career in the healthcare field. I think one of the biggest benefits has been the opportunity to work with such a diverse patient population. I have been able to interact with refugees and immigrants from all over the world, mental health patients, patients in drug and alcohol recovery, and the homeless. I have gained hands on experience with helping patients navigate the challenges they face in terms of receiving healthcare, and I know this will help me to better treat patients in the future as a physician. I have seen how important SHHC is to the patients they serve. Without SHHC a lot of these patients would not be receiving healthcare. Recently SHHC was highlighted on the local NPR station discussing the importance of funding renewal for community health centers. For more information check out this link:

This post was written by NPHC member Jenny Goodlin

Jenny serves at the Squirrel Hill Health Center as a Patient Navigator.