Walking around Germantown by Beau Blass

Posted on: January 25, 2021Philadelphia

As a patient advocate at Health Center 9, I work within the patient assistance program, which provides free medications to eligible individuals without insurance. In short, the pharmaceutical companies behind some of our most important drugs (think Pfizer, Merck, and AstraZeneca) allow uninsured patients under a certain income level to receive select medications at no cost. Without insurance (or even with coverage, I’m learning), a necessary inhaler or vial of insulin might cost north of $700 for a 30-day supply. As a result, these patient assistance programs are often the only way for people to receive the life-sustaining medications they deserve.

Uncle Bobbie's Sign
The sign hanging on
the outside of Uncle
Bobbie's Coffee &

Thoughts and frustrations arising from this system occupy my mind during lunchtime walks around the health center. Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods, and the city’s approach to public health is appropriately community-based. Health Center 9 serves underserved patients in Germantown and is a long-time fixture of the neighborhood, which feels more familiar with each new route that I take. I’m grateful for my daily ventures outside the office.

Uncle Bobbie’s is a frequent destination of mine, and for good reason. The Black-owned coffee and bookshop affords some much-needed mental and physical energy in the middle of a long day. Thankfully, it is just around the corner. Good coffee, great books, and meaningful conversation are truly restorative. Books like Stakes is High, by Mychal Denzel Smith, put our service in a broader context: “Justice is a proactive commitment to providing each person with the material and social conditions in which they can both survive and thrive as a healthy and self-actualized human being.” I keep this book in my desk as reference and reminder. 

Vernon Park
The vacant mansion in
Vernon Park surrounded
by trees.

My legs carry me through Vernon Park, where I find more birds and trees than I ever expected to see in the city. The park is anchored by a historic, noticeably vacant mansion. Its emptiness is at odds with the reality of homelessness in the area. This doesn’t feel like justice. 

I make my way back to Health Center 9. During each walk, I pass by the same sign: “Fight poverty, not the poor.” It’s a distinction that’s rarely made, but seeing this sign in the middle of my service day puts the contrast in stark relief. We’re far from achieving justice, but the work of our health center feels like a step in the right direction.

About the Author:

Beau Blass

Pronouns: he/him

Host Site: PDPH Health Center 9

Beau graduated from Duke University this past spring (2020). He's hoping to become a better advocate and communicator, while engaging with patients and community members from diverse backgrounds.