When it comes to demonstrating leadership, amazing things happen when healthcare professionals and volunteer organizations collaborate to meet the needs of the community.
Case in point: A Russian immigrant woman’s gum disease was so advanced that, ashamed of her appearance, she had given up laughter. Hand over mouth, she arrived at the Squirrel Hill Health Center (SHHC) desperate for dentures, so her dental problem would not be an embarrassment at her son’s upcoming wedding. She had no money for dentistry, no dental insurance. She could not speak English. Nevertheless, the center’s Russian translator was able to refer her to William Spatz, DMD, a dentist and oral surgeon, who provided care at no charge to the immigrant. Dr. Spatz said that after treatment, the change in the patient was “like the difference between night and day.”
Thanks to the efforts of a growing number of physicians who are part of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Maimonides Society, such outcomes are becoming even more frequent at the SHHC.
It’s no secret that physicians’ schedules are tight, so finding physician-volunteers has been difficult for this federally funded community health center, which offers primary care regardless of income or insurance status. Medical and nonmedical volunteers are critical to ensuring that the SHHC can continue to offer care on a sliding-fee basis.
When Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh launched the Volunteer Center last year, the goal was to match specific community needs with community members wanting to help. In its first year, the Volunteer Center has had great success in providing support to organizations such as SHHC.
According to Volunteer Center Chair Judi Kanal, “The Center reaches across the Jewish and non-Jewish communities. We link volunteers and opportunities as if the relationship were a shidduch, a match made by a matchmaker.” A prospective volunteer specifies skills, interests and availability, and the center links him or her to an appropriate program from among the many agencies and institutions that have requested help.
In the case of the SHHC, attention to matchmaking led the Volunteer Center to the Federation’s Maimonides Society.
Each member of the Maimonides Society is a health care professional who has made a significant contribution to the Federation’s Annual Campaign. The Society’s goal is to strengthen the medical community through education, networking, and philanthropy.
“I heard about the health center’s need through the Maimonides Society,” Dr. Spatz explains. For several years in his private practice in Squirrel Hill, Dr. Spatz devoted a half day weekly to SHHC patients.
Other Maimonides Society members provide no-cost care to SHHC patients. For four years Yram Groff, MD — president, Groff Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, in Shadyside and Monroeville — has accepted SHHC’s orthopedic referrals. Jennifer Holst, MD, an endocrinologist from Joslin Diabetes Affiliates, Bloomfield, sees patients at SHHC one night monthly.
Why do busy physicians volunteer at the SHHC? Dr. Spatz, current chair of the Maimonides Society, says, “I wanted to earn a sense of community.” Dr. Groff views his SHHC work as a way of obeying the Hippocratic oath. Plus, he says, “Volunteering gives me the feeling that I am practicing medicine, not just running a business.” Dr. Holst says, “Volunteering makes me feel that I am doing my part.”
Not all SHHC patients depend on donated treatment, however. Susan Friedberg Kalson, CEO of the Squirrel Hill Health Center, explains: “Some of the center’s patients have medical insurance. They come to us because they like our model of care.” The center is what is known as a patient-centered medical home. Kalson continues, “That means we treat patients holistically to provide preventive care and treatment.”
Kalson hopes the Volunteer Center and Maimonides Society continue to provide specialists. “We especially need specialists who will accept referrals at their own offices,” she says. “We really need a podiatrist, for example.”
Recently, the subject of health care does not always engender cooperation. The only thing everyone seems to agree on: The need for health care will not decrease. That’s why it’s so important for healthcare professionals to demonstrate their leadership by connecting with initiatives like the Volunteer Center and Maimonides Society.
The services of volunteers will remain vital to all community health centers. For some patients, healthcare professional volunteers make a “night and day” difference.
Call the Squirrel Hill Health Center at 412-422-7442. Connect with the Maimonides Society by calling 412-992-5230 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. To reach the Volunteer Center, call 412-992-5209 or e-mail email@example.com.
Jeff Finkelstein is President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, the central fundraising and planning organization for the Pittsburgh Jewish community.