Late on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, Milton Odom stopped by the University Lutheran Church at 37th and Chestnut streets for a meal. He left with not only supper, but a COVID-19 booster and a flu vaccine, as well as a connection to a primary care doctor.
Getting the inoculations was “a much smoother” process than previous health care encounters, Odom says, including his previous COVID shots. “If the other three had been that easy I would have come here sooner.”
The mobile clinic held at the church was organized by Shelter Health Outreach Program (SHOP), a University of Pennsylvania undergraduate student group, with support from a Penn Projects for Progress (P4P) award and Penn Medicine. The intent? To nimbly offer convenient health care to those who need it most.
Faculty advisor Joseph Teel, MD, a professor of Family Medicine and Community Health in the Perelman School of Medicine, and the student team, envisioned providing health care wholly embedded in the community, with a particular eye toward people experiencing homelessness or other hardships. That care is now rolling out to patients as the team first envisioned, both through mobile clinics at churches and shelters in the city, and through a partnership that places SHOP students and Penn Medicine physicians in the ICNA Relief Social Health and Medical Service (SHAMS) Clinic in West Philadelphia.
“We were really motivated to respond to the needs of our community partners,” Teel says. “It was [with them] that we developed this idea of, how can we set up a new access point for care, geographically proximal to feeding sites or shelter sites. The goal was to develop longitudinal relationships with those sites as well as with the people seeking care in those sites.”