The Wright Center awarded trio of grants from city of Scranton for pandemic-related health and wellness activities

The Wright Center for Community Health recently received three grant awards from the city of Scranton as part of a distribution of federal funds to promote residents’ recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scranton awarded a total of about $1 million in wellness grants to nearly two-dozen area nonprofits. City officials focused this round of grant giving on three categories: drug overdose prevention, behavioral health and violence prevention, and wellness.

The Wright Center – a Scranton-based provider of primary health care and preventive services – is active in all three of the targeted categories and was chosen to receive a combined $145,000 in grant support. The organization will inject those public resources into three ongoing programs to benefit patients, health care providers, and the larger community.

The first award, to be used for overdose and prevention programs, will enable The Wright Center for Community Health to further engage community partners and patients in the services of its state-designated Opioid Use Disorder Center of Excellence. A portion of the $50,000 grant will provide community training on the topics of substance use disorder, medication-assisted treatment, and stigma surrounding addiction. Among the intended recipients of the educational sessions are law enforcement professionals, first responders, and government officials. This grant also will assist with harm reduction and long-term recovery support services in the region, which aim to reduce fatal overdoses.

The second award of $50,000 will be used to enhance The Wright Center for Community Health’s existing resiliency and wellness programming. Its Lifestyle Medicine service line will be integrated more fully into primary health care services, with the intent of engaging more high-risk patients in programs designed to help them positively adjust their behaviors. A prime focus will be on treating obesity as a chronic disease that contributes to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea, cancer, and overall premature death.

The third award, in the amount of $45,000, will underwrite The Wright Center’s participation in a training program conducted by the New York-based Sanctuary Institute to promote employee wellness and create a supportive, trauma-informed environment for the benefit of the organization’s workforce, patients, and the broader community. The institute’s training model is seen by many as a needed antidote to the intensified pressure on health care workers and others brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scranton’s mayor announced the wellness grant distributions at a news conference on Nov. 22. The funds are part of $68.7 million that Scranton had received through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to address the pandemic’s economic and health-related fallout on city residents.

Dr. Linda Thomas-Hemak

All applications were reviewed by the city, including by its public health coordinator, Dr. Rachna Saxena, and compliance consultants from Anser Advisory to ensure that organizations were not receiving duplicate federal benefits, per the guidelines set by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Applications were also reviewed for project sustainability, service to city residents, and more.

“The thoughtful and generous allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funds by Scranton City Council will support our mission-driven efforts to improve the health and well-being of the patients and communities we humbly serve,” said Dr. Linda Thomas-Hemak, president and CEO of The Wright Centers for Community Health and Graduate Medical Education.

“Thanks to our local and federal officials,” she said, “these resources will help us to expand and augment our ongoing efforts to address the opioid epidemic and empower recovery, our resiliency and wellness programming, and trauma-informed training for our governing board, executive management, health care providers, interprofessional learners, and patients.”

The Wright Center for Community Health operates a network of primary care practices in Northeast Pennsylvania, three located in the city, providing access to affordable, nondiscriminatory, high-quality services including medical, dental, and behavioral health care. The nonprofit enterprise also maintains an administrative and educational hub in Scranton’s South Side neighborhood.

For more information, visit TheWrightCenter.org.

The Wright Center for Community Health receives HRSA recognition for model of care that prioritizes quality improvements and patient experience

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recently awarded The Wright Center for Community Health with its Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH) recognition.

The recognition is given annually to health centers that embrace the PCMH model of care, which prioritizes a commitment to continuous quality improvement and a patient-centered approach to care.

With the addition of this recognition, or badge, The Wright Center has received a total of three HRSA badges this year through the federal agency’s Community Health Quality Recognition program.

The Wright Center also previously earned the 2022 Advancing Health Information Technology for Quality badge and the newly established Addressing Social Risk Factors to Health badge.

HRSA annually reviews health centers’ performance data and bestows badges on federal Health Center Program awardees and Look-Alikes that have made notable quality improvement achievements in the areas of health equity, access, quality, and use of health information technology. HRSA encourages the recipients of its badges to prominently display them on the health centers’ websites and elsewhere, as outward symbols of the centers’ leadership in those key areas.

The Wright Center previously adopted the PCMH model of care, with several of its primary care practices in Northeast Pennsylvania being formally evaluated by the National Committee for Quality Assurance and receiving PCMH recognition.

Under the PCMH model of care, a patient is engaged in a direct relationship with a chosen physician or another provider who serves in a leadership role and coordinates a cooperative team of health care professionals. The leader takes responsibility for the comprehensive integrated care provided to the patient, and advocates and arranges appropriate care with other qualified providers, specialists and community resources as needed.

Research has shown that PCMHs can improve the quality of care and the patient experience, while also reducing health care costs.

The Wright Center for Community Health, which in 2019 became a HRSA-designated Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alike, currently operates a network of primary care practices in Lackawanna, Luzerne and Wayne counties.

The Wright Center provides safety-net, comprehensive primary and preventive health services – including medical, dental, behavioral health, addiction and recovery, and infectious disease services – that cover the lifespan from pediatrics to geriatrics. A special emphasis is placed on medically underserved populations, and no patient is turned away due to an inability to pay.

Wright Center for Community Health holding ‘Know Before You Go’ COVID-19 mobile testing clinics for holiday season

TWC Driving Better Health (3)

The Wright Center for Community Health is holding several “Know Before You Go” mobile testing clinics in Lackawanna, Luzerne and Wayne counties to limit the spread of COVID-19 during the holiday season. The Driving Better Health mobile medical unit will offer coronavirus testing for people who are symptomatic from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at clinics in Lackawanna, Luzerne and Wayne counties. Please go to TheWrightCenter.org/events for more information.

The Wright Center for Community Health is holding several “Know Before You Go” mobile testing clinics in Lackawanna, Luzerne and Wayne counties to limit the spread of COVID-19 during the holiday season.

The Wright Center will utilize its Driving Better Health mobile medical unit to offer coronavirus testing for people who are symptomatic from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the following clinics:

  • Wednesday, Nov. 23: Hawley Practice, 103 Spruce St., Hawley
  • Tuesday, Nov. 29: Hawley Practice, 103 Spruce St., Hawley
  • Thursday, Dec. 22: Wilkes-Barre Practice, 169 N. Pennsylvania Ave., Wilkes-Barre  
  • Thursday, Dec. 29: Wilkes-Barre Practice, 169 N. Pennsylvania Ave., Wilkes-Barre
  • Friday, Dec. 30: Clarks Summit Practice, 1145 Northern Boulevard, South Abington Twp.

“Our special testing clinics are being utilized to remind the public about the importance of testing, especially if you are visiting family and friends for the holidays,” said Dr. Jignesh Y. Sheth, chief medical officer for The Wright Center for Community Health. “We need to work together to minimize the spread and protect high-risk populations from COVID-19, especially as we get further into cold and flu season.” 

Driving Better Health enables The Wright Center for Community Health to deliver high-quality, nondiscriminatory health care where patients live and work in Northeast Pennsylvania. COVID-19 testing is available for patients of all ages. A guardian must accompany patients who are younger than 17. Walk-up appointments are welcome, but appointments are encouraged for the convenience of patients. Please go to TheWrightCenter.org to use the express online scheduling system or call 570-230-0019 to schedule an appointment.

Guests are asked to observe public safety measures, including masking and social distancing, during the testing clinics, and bring identification and insurance cards. 

The Wright Center for Community Health is a Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alike. Community health centers offer high-quality, affordable and nondiscriminatory safety-net health care services and are the largest providers of primary care for the nation’s most vulnerable and medically underserved populations. Prevalent in both urban and rural settings, community health centers are located in regions with high-poverty rates and/or low numbers of private or nonprofit health care systems and hospitals. 

For more information about The Wright Center for Community Health, go to TheWrightCenter.org.

The Robert H. Spitz Foundation grant supports The Wright Center for Community Health’s Healthy MOMS program

The Wright Center for Community Health received a $5,000 grant from the Robert H. Spitz Foundation in support of the collaborative Healthy MOMS Helping MOMS Out of Poverty program. The grant helps participants with the initial costs of paying for security deposits, rent, and utility bills so they can secure safe housing. Participating in the ceremonial check presentation, from left, are Frank Caputo, grants and communications coordinator, Scranton Area Community Foundation; Maria Kolcharno, director of addiction services and a leader of the Healthy MOMS program, and Marcella Garvin, lead case manager, Healthy MOMS program, The Wright Center for Community Health, and Brittany Pagnotti, communications manager, Scranton Area Community Foundation.

The Wright Center for Community Health was recently awarded a $5,000 grant from the Robert H. Spitz Foundation in support of the collaborative Healthy Maternal Opiate Medical Support program (Healthy MOMS) that focuses on helping pregnant women and new mothers overcome addiction and embrace a life in recovery.

The grant will support working mothers in the Helping MOMS Out of Poverty (HOP) program who need help with initial costs of paying for security deposits, rent and utility bills to secure safe housing, an important step in maintaining their recovery and independently caring for their children. 

Healthy MOMS participants are offered a variety of necessary services that include medication-assisted treatment and addiction services, counseling, primary health care, OB-GYN care, parenting tips, legal advice and a range of other support programs. The program promotes the well-being of both mom and newborn, ideally engaging them in wrap-around services until the child turns two years old. 

Launched in 2018, the program serves Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties. To date, Healthy MOMS has supported more than 300 mothers and 193 babies.

“We are grateful to the Robert H. Spitz Foundation for their financial support and the various community partnerships that enable our program to help two generations in our communities,” said Maria Kolcharno, the director of addiction services and a leader of the Healthy MOMS program at The Wright Center for Community Health. “The lack of affordable, safe housing continues to be a challenge for women enrolled in Healthy MOMS. This grant will help women in our program afford safe housing in which to raise their children and secure their future.” 

The Robert H. Spitz Foundation awards grants to registered nonprofit organizations that support initiatives and programs serving the residents of Lackawanna County and Northeast Pennsylvania. Among the foundation’s four priority areas are “programs that aim to break the cycle of poverty, remove economic barriers, and encourage independence in adults and children through access to safe, affordable housing, transportation, education and other important issues.”

To date, the Robert H. Spitz Foundation has distributed more than $4.6 million in grants to the community. The Scranton Area Community Foundation has served as administrator of the foundation since 2016. Learn more at safdn.org. 

For more information about the Healthy MOMS program, call 570-955-7821 or visit HealthyMOMS.org

The Wright Center’s successful vaccination project spotlighted at White House summit

An employee of The Wright Center for Community Health attended a summit held Wednesday, Nov. 16, at the White House complex, presenting a summary of the organization’s success in vaccinating certain vulnerable populations against COVID-19.

Melissa Bonnerwith, project manager for public health education and AmeriCorps VISTA at The Wright Center, delivered a poster presentation during the “Summit on COVID-19 Equity and What Works Showcase.”

The event was organized by The White House Office for COVID-19 Response. Participants included U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other high-ranking federal health officials.

The Wright Center was among a “select group of community organizations” invited to send a representative to the summit to “highlight evidence-based programs and initiatives that have moved the needle on equitable COVID-19 outcomes,” according to organizers.

Bonnerwith shared insights gained by The Wright Center as a result of its months-long involvement in a grant-funded Community Vaccine Ambassador Project, which was funded by the CDC. The pandemic-fighting project was conducted in partnership with the National Association of Community Health Centers and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.

Only 15 health centers and organizations in the nation were selected for the Vaccine Ambassador Project. Those organizations, located in 12 states, received grant funding to focus on administering coronavirus vaccines to people in populations of special concern, including individuals with substance use disorders and individuals experiencing homelessness.

The Wright Center’s team members exceeded expectations and provided about 1,600 vaccine doses during the project period to people with substance use disorders and more than 180 doses to people experiencing homelessness.

Melissa Bonnerwith, project manager of public health education and AmeriCorps VISTA at The Wright Center, delivered the poster presentation during the “Summit on COVID-19 Equity and What Works Showcase” at the White House Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

The CDC asked Bonnerwith to co-present at this week’s summit with Kimberly Chiaramonte, a senior project officer with the Homeless Council.

Bonnerwith, who oversaw The Wright Center’s grant project, attributed its effectiveness largely to the ability of its “vaccine ambassadors” – consisting of three community health workers and three certified recovery specialists – to build rapport and trust with people in the populations of focus. In some instances, it took multiple conversations over several encounters with an individual before that person would decide to roll up a sleeve and get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The project also relied on the strategic use of The Wright Center’s mobile medical vehicle, which was deployed into the community 79 times as part of this grant initiative, Bonnerwith said. She also credited the involvement of The Wright Center’s strong community partners. Among those critical to the success of the project were the Office of Drug and Alcohol Programs for Lackawanna and Susquehanna counties; the Community Intervention Center and St. Francis of Assisi Kitchen, both in Scranton; and The Hazleton Integration Project and La Casa Dominicana, both in Hazleton.

Melissa Bonnerwith, right, project manager of public health education and AmeriCorps VISTA at The Wright Center, co-presented the research poster at the White House Eisenhower Executive Office Building with Kimberly Chiaramonte, a senior project officer with the National Health Care for the Homeless Council

The Wright Center’s patient data show higher rates of vaccination among the two populations of focus during the grant project, which incentivized participation with retail gift cards, than in the months prior to the project.

“We used targeted interventions, and ultimately saw that our rate of vaccination among people experiencing homelessness doubled and our rate among people with substance use disorder increased 34 percent,” said Bonnerwith. “That’s pretty exciting.”

Since the time COVID-19 vaccines first became available in December 2020, The Wright Center’s providers have administered more than 48,000 vaccine doses.

The Wright Center for Community Health, headquartered in Scranton, was designated in 2019 as a Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alike. Today, it operates a growing network of primary care practices that provide high-quality, affordable and nondiscriminatory care to patients from five counties in Northeast Pennsylvania.

It is affiliated with The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education, the nation’s largest Health Resources and Services Administration-funded Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Safety Net Consortium.

Community Health Workers a vital, growing career in Northeast Pennsylvania

The Wright Center's Community health workers

Community health workers play a vital role in improving the health and welfare of The Wright Center for Community Health’s patients. Community health workers at The Wright Center, including, first row from left, Bonnie Dunleavy, CCHW; Amanda Vommaro, CCHW; and Julie Makhoul; second row, Nick Sardo, Michelle Kobeski, Scarlet Pujols Recio and Stacey Major.

Wright Center utilizes emerging professional field to address the needs of patients

One of the fastest growing, most in-demand roles in health care today is one many people have never heard of: Community health worker or CHW.

A community health worker’s role can best be described as part social worker, part counselor and part advocate, with perhaps a sprinkle of magician thrown in, which would explain their ability to solve many of a patient’s most pressing problems.

For example, community health workers are deeply familiar with the social services network in a particular geographic area and can usually assist a patient with securing life necessities – such as temporary housing, utility assistance, transportation to medical appointments, insurance, food or clothing – when the patient previously had been uncertain where to turn or got stopped by roadblocks in the system.

“This is a good first step for a career in health care,” said Amanda Vommaro, CCHW, director of patient-centered services and supervisor of the community health workers at The Wright Center for Community Health. “It’s more like a social worker. You help people take care of their social needs so they are better able to prioritize and take care of their medical needs.”

Employment of community health workers across the United States is projected to grow 12 percent between 2021 and 2031 – much faster than the average for other occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan called for hiring 100,000 community health workers over 10 years starting in 2021 to support the prevention and control of COVID-19. Many of these jobs, which are increasingly valued among the health care industry for reasons beyond the pandemic and its challenges, have yet to be filled in Northeast Pennsylvania, perhaps due to the unfamiliarity of the position.

Bonnie Dunleavy, CCHW, a community health worker at The Wright Center for Community Health Mid Valley Practice assists a patient.

Bonnie Dunleavy, CCHW, a community health worker at The Wright Center for Community Health Mid Valley Practice, assists a patient.

To help address the shortage, the Pennsylvania Area Health Education Center (AHEC) offers a 100-hour training program that is designed to provide the core competencies needed for work in community-based and inpatient settings. Community health workers typically need a minimum of a high school diploma. They must complete the required training offered by an institution such as AHEC as well as extensive on-the-job training at a facility such as one of The Wright Center’s primary care practices.

The Wright Center has hired five community health workers in 2022, and another three CHW candidates are currently completing their training.

The training provides comprehensive information about how to efficiently connect patients to appropriate health care and other social and community resources that are specific to the training site location, be it a rural community like Jermyn or urban center like Wilkes-Barre.

“We work with local food banks and shelters, public transportation and housing services, and other organizations to help people in our communities,” said Vommaro, “people who are our neighbors.”

The Wright Center and The Northeast Pennsylvania Area Health Education Center have formed a strong collaborative relationship to continue to recruit, train and certify community health workers from the region to serve the local community. Candidates are being sought from across The Wright Center’s five-county service area, including places such as Greater Scranton, the Wilkes-Barre area and Hazleton. Professionals who are bilingual are especially in demand.

These front-line public health workers assist in improving the quality of care and breaking down cultural, language and other common barriers to treatment. Overall, they can improve health outcomes and save money by acting as a bridge between patients and the health care and social service systems. By building trust with patients, they learn about their lives, their resources and needs, and the barriers they face to being as healthy as possible.

For instance, community health workers can help patients understand their health insurance options and navigate the application process, or help elderly patients secure needed durable medical equipment that they otherwise could not afford.

Bonnie Dunleavy, CCHW, spent more than 20 years working in health care before becoming a community health worker in 2018. “I started doing this before it became a position,” she said. “I really am a people-person. I always liked helping people, to try to figure out solutions to their problems and make a difference in their lives.”

One of the biggest challenges that both Dunleavy and Vommaro see among their patients is finding affordable housing.

“There is such a lack of public housing,” said Dunleavy, who uses every resource available to her to secure a safe, warm bed at night for her patients. “With the cost of rent, the cost of inflation, more and more people are finding themselves being evicted or they are choosing to live in their cars.”

Most people faced with this dilemma will try to live with family or friends for a while, bouncing from home to home, Dunleavy said. Others go to shelters, which begin to fill up during the cold-weather season. “We need more resources out in the community to assist people,” she said. “But we are doing the best with what we have.”

Dunleavy and Vommaro are currently among more than 500 community health workers employed in the Keystone State, according to information released in September 2022 at the inaugural Pennsylvania Community Health Worker Conference in Boalsburg.

Nick Sardo, a community health worker at The Wright Center for Community Health Mid Valley Practice, takes notes while talking to a patient during a recent visit.

Nick Sardo, a community health worker at The Wright Center for Community Health Mid Valley Practice, takes notes while talking to a patient during a recent visit.

Dr. Linda Thomas-Hemak, president and CEO of The Wright Centers for Community Health and Graduate Medical Education, views community health workers as a key to providing whole-person care because they help to identify and resolve social and economic issues a patient might be experiencing outside the clinic, such as food insecurity or lack of adequate housing. Through their efforts, the CHWs are helping entire families and connecting formerly marginalized populations to the affordable, nondiscriminatory and high-quality health services they deserve.

“Community health workers are essential members of our provider care teams who elevate our efforts to promote wellness and resiliency; to increase utilization of preventive services; to better manage chronic illnesses; and to address the complex socioeconomic determinants of health,” Thomas-Hemak said.

“These passionate and talented, front-line public health workers are trusted members of our team and the communities they serve,” she added. “By acting as front-line agents of change, they are reducing health care inequities and health disparities in our medically underserved communities.”

For more information about the role of community health workers or to apply for a training course, visit www.pachw.org/education-training. Current community health workers can apply for open positions at The Wright Center for Community Health by visiting TheWrightCenter.org/careers.