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Penn Medicine CAREs: Highlighting Community Efforts, Inspiring Others

Penn Medicine staff volunteers their time at Camp Erin - Philadelphia, a bereavement camp for children that hels them deal with the grief of losing a loved one.

What do the following have in common?

  • Volunteering at a camp that helps children who have lost a parent.
  • Hosting a workshop for clergy on domestic violence awareness.
  • Donating and serving food at a Mother’s Day brunch for a local homeless shelter.
  • Teaching peaceful conflict resolution to teens as part of a violence prevention project.
  • Providing free physicals, testing, and medication to walk-in patients in the basement of a church in West Philadelphia

The answer: all of these activities were performed by Penn Medicine employees on a voluntary basis outside of their normal working duties. 

Until now it’s been difficult to get an accurate count of the magnitude of commitments such as these made by the hundreds of Penn physicians, nurses, students, and staff members who give of their time and talents to those in need of assistance.

But that’s all about to change.

Tracking Our Volunteer Efforts

Co-Hosting the Annual Philadelphia Community Baby Shower Co-Hosting the Annual Philadelphia Community Baby Shower

Penn Medicine has a new initiative to pinpoint and tally the many volunteer activities carried out by Penn people on a daily basis in communities surrounding Penn and citywide. The project -- the Penn Medicine Community Activities Reporting E-nitiative (Penn Medicine CAREs) -- features a special web site where employees can fill out a brief online form describing their volunteer efforts.

“Our faculty and employees provide many thousands of hours of pro bono support for dozens of worthy projects each year,” said Arthur H. Rubenstein, dean of Penn's School of Medicine and executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System. “By gathering information in one place, CAREs will give us a better handle on the range of these humanitarian activities. And improved information means we can more accurately document and quantify what we do for the community.” 

But Rubenstein believes that there is an even greater benefit: “We have always placed a premium on community involvement at Penn Medicine. CAREs will help us showcase volunteerism in a way that inspires others.  And it will help us target our efforts to contribute to the community.”

“This is one time it’s OK to talk about your good works. We want everyone to volunteer information about their volunteer efforts.”Ralph Muller, CEO

Penn Medicine already has an accurate picture of the system-wide community benefit services that it provides, such as charity and underfunded care for Medicaid families, physician training support, and research support; these totaled $733.5 million in fiscal year 2009. The aim of CAREs is to home in on the dozens of community-based projects housed in virtually every department of UPHS hospitals -- which in the past have been harder to catalogue. “We’re asking people not to be bashful,” said Ralph Muller, CEO of the Health System. “This is one time it’s OK to talk about your good works. We want everyone to volunteer information about their volunteer efforts.”

Because Click on the image to download Simply Because, Penn Medicine's community benefits report.

There have also been recent changes in regulation that direct hospitals to put a more precise figure on their community benefits efforts. “We’re a leader in supporting worthwhile community projects,” said Muller. “Our community benefits report, Simply Because, is full of inspiring information on the many ways we work to make our community better. CAREs will help us paint a more complete picture by getting a better sense of the time people put into these efforts.

“And it will alert us to smaller projects that are occurring on an as-needed or seasonal basis, such as food drives at Thanksgiving or holiday gifts for patient families. We want policymakers and the community to know how much we are giving back.”

Joe DiRienzi, medical pathology coordinator in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at HUP, is the kind of dedicated person that CAREs is targeting. Many years ago, in an effort to keep kids from smoking, he started his practice of participating in health fairs at his children’s elementary school. He brought two specimen bags: one contained a healthy, pink set of lungs; the other the “blackest, nastiest smoker’s lungs I could find.” He shows high school students photos of organs riddled with cancer. “I tell them if they smoke, they will get emphysema, but that doesn’t mean anything to them.” So he has the students experience what it feels like. “I tell them to hold their nose and try breathing through their mouth … while biting down on a coffee stirrer.” The results have been gratifying. “I see students in high school who saw the black lungs at the health fair when they were young and never touched cigarettes after that,” he said.  “Another young man was smoking a pack a day when he saw my high school presentation. A year later, his girl friend told me, ‘Your lecture made him quit.’” CAREs will enable important efforts such as Joe DiRienzi’s to be included in the roundup of community benefit services provided by Penn.

Kate Kinslow, executive director of Pennsylvania Hospital, welcomes the new information that CAREs will help make available. “At Pennsylvania Hospital our employees and clinicians regularly go above and beyond to serve our community.”  A number of these programs are highlighted in Simply Because. These include the monthly lunch lectures at Old St. Joseph’s Church, where our nurses educate homeless men on health topics, and the Hall-Mercer Homeless Program, which provides care and resources for people who live on the streets or in shelters.

At the University City Hospitality Coalition, doctors and students from the School of Medicine staff a medical clinic on Wednesdays. Photo by Peggy Peterson. At the University City Hospitality Coalition, doctors and students from the School of Medicine staff a medical clinic on Wednesdays, offering medical advice, vaccinations, screening tests, and referrals. Photo by Peggy Peterson

“We want those who participate in these excellent programs to complete the CAREs survey. But we also have other cases where individuals do great work that is not affiliated with any of our formal programs. For example, two of our nurses recently returned from a medical service trip to Guatemala. CAREs will help us capture a wider range of these types of activities for recognition and reporting purposes.”

Victoria Rich, PhD, the Health System’s chief nurse executive, is also a big fan of CAREs. She noted: "I am delighted that Penn Medicine employees now have an opportunity to not only share but also be recognized and appreciated for the thousands of hours of volunteer and humanitarian efforts spent to care for others when they cannot care for themselves.”

Plans are in the works to create strong internal awareness CAREs. There will be profiles of individual employee efforts in the newsletters of all three hospitals, CAREs fairs will be staged, and an audiovisual version of Simply Because with additional stories will supplement the printed edition. And over the next year, the CAREs website will be expanded so employees can sign up to be notified about community volunteer opportunities that match their interests and expertise.

“We’re excited about this feature,” said Muller. “We receive hundreds of requests for help each year. We believe we have a duty to share our expertise, and this will help us match people to projects that the community has requested.”

Where to Go for Penn Medicine CAREs

Penn Medicine CAREs Links to the CAREs page can be found on the Intranet and also on Penn Medicine’s new Internet community outreach webpage at www.pennmedicine.org/community and on the School of Medicine community webpage at www.med.upenn.edu/community.

If you have questions about the CAREs form or how you can help make it count, call the office of Government Affairs and Community Outreach at 215-662-7030 or e-mail CAREs@uphs.upenn.edu.

Photo at top of article: Penn Medicine staff volunteers their time at Camp Erin - Philadelphia, a bereavement camp for children that hels them deal with the grief of losing a loved one.

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Make it count! Help us keep track of all of Penn Medicine's community outreach activities by filling out the Penn Medicine CAREs reporting form. No contribution is too small to report. Visit PennMedicine.org/community.

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