After the pandemic began and the campus, like the country, went into lockdown, Christian Bogardus, a senior government and biochemistry double major, realized the situation gave him an opportunity to help bring health equity to the local community.
An emergency medical technician at Franklin & Marshall College, Bogardus, who had long considered the idea, said, “I had a chance to take a lot of courses here that talked about the issue of health inequity, and as a campus EMT, I see that a lot as well.”
He and a group of friends lost internship and research opportunities because of the nationwide lockdown; Bogardus’ health diplomacy internship with a Washington, D.C., think tank was canceled. So, sitting in his residence hall room last spring, they studied how to start a nonprofit organization.
“We wanted to make sure that we weren’t accidentally trying to duplicate activities that were already going on in the community regarding health equity,” Bogardus said. “We decided to try and use the time that we lost during the pandemic to fill in a gap that we saw in the community.”
Their first step was to start a website, launchchl.org. Then they created “health prep kits,” which they described as “the first component of their medical preparedness initiative.” The kit contains gloves, hand sanitizer, masks and a health passport.
The passport is a written document that contains a patient's health care records—prescriptions, immunizations, recent hospital stays, and available resources in Lancaster.
“We hope to use these resources to bridge the gap within our underserved communities, especially patients who are not found in the electronic health records system, and put their health care into their hands,” Bogardus said.
The other students involved are now board members of the nonprofit they established, Launch Community Health League. Angelica Camilo, Jake Barr, Matthew Turetsky and Olivia Heffernan all responded immediately to Bogardus’ proposal.
“When he approached me, I just grabbed onto the idea of approaching health equity from a vision perspective—looking to help patients get acclimated and into the health care system with providers,” said Turetsky, a senior mathematics and Spanish double major.
As treasurer, Turetsky and Heffernan, secretary and community partnership director, are the only board members who do not have science-based majors or have medical school in their post-graduate future.
“We all came at this from different angles and different forms of experience,” said Heffernan, an English literature major. “I myself am a child of two physicians, so I’ve seen physician burnout and just how rough that is. I’ve seen how difficult it is dealing with a 15-minute appointment slot, not getting to know your patients really well, and not being able to provide patients with the kind of care that they need.”
Like Bogardus, Barr, director of health preparedness programs, is a senior biochemistry major and a campus EMT. He also plans to attend medical school in the Philadelphia area, which he believes would benefit from a Launch Health Care League.
“[I] understand the need for this type of program in our communities, and not just Lancaster, but the tristate area,” Barr said. “The reason I wanted to go to medical school was so I can help people, especially people who are in our underserved communities. Living in a town like Lancaster, and also volunteering and working in Camden, New Jersey, I’ve seen two areas that are affected by physician shortages and also lack of educational resources.”
As vice president, senior biochemistry major Camilo, along with the other board members, works with some local partners such as Lancaster Food Hub, Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County, and Alder Health Services, where the students have distributed 500 health prep kits in the last couple of months.
The group also provides resource information on the website including the LCHL blog, “Launching Dialogue,” which posts health updates, news and stories from other community members.
To start their nonprofit, the students contributed their own money, much of it from academic awards like the Marshall Fellowship and individual awards Bogardus received, as well as some general board funding. They now receive funds from partners and donations from the community groups such as local churches. They plan to expand their development working with alumni.
In establishing the league, the students sought advice from doctors and other health care professionals, including Olivia Heffernan’s parents. The responses they received indicate future success for the league.
“A lot of those physicians and providers responded very well just to our ideas and just asking about it and how we can benefit their side of health care,” Heffernan said. “Everyone seems really interested in making this more like a community project and benefiting the health care system overall, especially in areas of extreme inequity.”