By Glenn N. Cummings, Ph.D., Director of Health Professions Advising
Shortly after I arrived at F&M, I was invited to breakfast by an alumnus who was a practicing OBGYN in the Lancaster area. He divided his time between Hershey, Lancaster General Hospital, and a community health center called SouthEast Lancaster Health Services. In the course of our breakfast together and in our nearly every conversation since, the last of these clinical settings, SouthEast, has come up as a place where this alum-physician finds his inspiration. Not long after that, a colleague in the Office of Student & Post-Graduate Development was enlisted to go to SouthEast and lead the entire staff in a Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory; she came back with only nice things to say about the people she met there. A few weeks later I sat next to SouthEast’s Human Resources Manager at a dinner hosted by the Ware Institute’s F&M Works program, and was amazed by her energy for her job. My curiosity about SouthEast peaked when Sebastian Vargas ’14 invited the center’s leadership to a panel discussion on public health in the new age of the Affordable Care Act, as part of Bonchek College House’s series on contemporary issues. There sat the Chief Operating Officer, the Chief Financial Officer, the Director of Community Relations, the Human Resources Manager, the Chief Development Officer, and the President & CEO, all taking time out of their busy days to talk to F&M students about the challenges and rewards of offering affordable healthcare to all of Lancaster. It was obvious to me: this organization is a rare find.
Late last semester, I went with a couple of interested students to tour SouthEast’s main site on S. Duke St. Our host was Kedren Crosby, Chief Development Officer, who talked with great enthusiasm about the organization’s mission and programs. SouthEast has been around since 1972 and started as a volunteer-run medical clinic. While the staff are now paid for their work, they’re still the types of individuals who aren’t in medicine for the money, and this natural desire to give their time carries over to everything they do, including their supervision of pre-health interns and volunteers.
SouthEast’s mission is to provide medical and dental care to Lancastrians who have no insurance, and little or no income. They see a whopping 16,000+ medical patients annually who make approximately 90,000 visits (not including about 18,000 annual dental visits). And all on a shoestring budget. “We make dresses out of drapes,” Kedren has told me. “Dresses out of drapes . . . it’s an informal motto around here.” Like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, SouthEast is short on resources, long on resourcefulness. Out of necessity, they get creative. “Because we are dirt poor and we serve incredibly complex populations, we have to very creative and design affordable and preventative healthcare,” adds Kedren, much like Scarlett dressing up in what’s left of Tara’s curtains. One initiative that has come out of this type of thinking is the Wellness Circle, an expanded group appointment where a central health issue (obesity maybe, or diabetes, or asthma) is discussed among a group of both patients and practitioners. Another example of making “dresses out of drapes” is their Portable Prevention Program, where hygienists take mobile dental equipment into medical exam rooms so that kids ages 0-5 receive dental care during their regular checkups, setting the kids up to establish excellent dental health practices and putting them onto a preventive cycle.
Listen, I’m no expert on the ability (or inability) of our country’s healthcare system to serve the underserved. I could watch all of the debates on “Obamacare” and read all the blogs, and I’d still be a little fuzzy on the topic since I see students, not patients; the ones who live and breathe it are the healthcare providers and administrators like our friends at SouthEast. Even after Sebastian’s panel of SouthEast VIPs, I have more questions than answers. But one thing is clear: exposure to a community health center should be a required activity for the pre-health student, certainly as important as doing problem sets for the next physics quiz, shadowing surgeons, or spending the summer in a lab. SouthEast is an invaluable resource in this regard. They’re not just there for a community of patients, although that is, of course, their priority. They’re there for those of you who want to learn more about the diversity of patients in this country, the power of wellness, the challenges of financing top-notch healthcare, the necessity of teamwork, and the impact you can have in your community. If you do end up seeing patients some day, no matter what area of medicine you’re in, you’ll encounter the issues facing SouthEast and community health centers just like it all over the U.S. (is there one in your hometown?). Gaining exposure now and helping out in relatively small ways now will empower you to make an even bigger difference later.
- To volunteer at SouthEast, go here.
- The F&M Works program through our Ware Institute has opportunities at SouthEast as well.
- If you found this helpful, you may want to read “Making the Most of Hospital Volunteering & Shadowing,” my blog post from October 26, 2012.