Health center helps with non-medical issues, too

Chanel Mayo picks out a polo shirt for her daughter, Violet, at a recent school uniform giveaway organized by The Wright Center for Patient & Community Engagement at The Wright Center for Community Health Scranton Practice.

The Wright Center for Patient & Community Engagement supports people facing financial and other hardships

During a community-outreach project, Kara Seitzinger was handing out free back-to-school supplies at the South Side Farmers Market in Scranton on a sunny Saturday when she got an urgent call from a colleague at The Wright Center for Community Health Mid Valley Practice.

The caller, a community health worker, explained the still-unfolding situation: A mother, homeless and pregnant, had come into the clinic in Jermyn needing food, diapers, and other essential supplies.

The caller asked: Can we help her?

Tucker Mulligan, left, a Scranton Preparatory School student, and Kara Seitzinger, executive director of public affairs at The Wright Center, set up school supplies during a school uniform giveaway at The Wright Center for Community Health Scranton Practice, 501 S. Washington Ave., Scranton.

Yes, said Seitzinger. Within hours, the woman received what she needed. The same day, Seitzinger and a group of volunteers distributed 85 school backpacks to families visiting the farmers market.

It’s all in a day’s work for Seitzinger, executive director of public affairs at The Wright Center, and like-minded employees who volunteer with the nonprofit organization’s subsidiary, The Wright Center for Patient & Community Engagement (PCE).

The Wright Center’s employees and resident and fellow physicians are active year-round, doing impactful projects with PCE to improve people’s health and well-being.

PCE’s roots can be traced to an informal auxiliary started years ago by staffers at the Mid Valley Practice and funded by their donations. They sporadically passed the hat to help a patient or family with a pressing need. However, The Wright Center’s leaders soon recognized the profound need it filled in the community and formalized the initiative in 2020 to make it self-sufficient. 

Mary Marrara, a longtime community champion and a member of The Wright Center for Community Health Board, helped complete the paperwork to establish PCE officially. “The initiative to do patient and community engagement started with little bites, and then we folded in the auxiliary to launch what it is today,” she said.  

‘We take care of it’

PCE strives to help people in the region overcome food insecurity and other negative social and economic determinants of health, such as inadequate housing, lack of educational access, and poverty. The Wright Center’s leaders recognize that addressing these basic needs is critical to improving patients’ health over the long term, said Seitzinger, who serves as advisor liaison to The Wright Center’s president and CEO.

“Transportation has always been a huge problem for many of our patients,” said Seitzinger. “And, food insecurity has increased exponentially since the COVID-19 pandemic began and really rose again in the last six months as SNAP benefits were cut.”

PCE seeks grants and conducts several fundraising events to fulfill its mission. The organization hosted its inaugural golf tournament in May, which raised more than $45,000. In August, proceeds from the second annual Road to Recovery Car Show at Nay Aug Park assisted patients of The Wright Center for Community Health’s Opioid Use Disorder Center of Excellence with transportation to and from appointments.

Similarly, when possible, PCE helps community members get past short-term crises, as it was able to do for the pregnant, homeless woman who needed assistance. 

“People can come to us without worry,” said Marrara. “We have people come to us privately, and we take care of it, but we maintain 100% accurate records. I want people to know – everything we do is checked and double-checked.” 

‘The next step’

PCE relies on volunteers to chip in during food distributions, school backpack giveaways, and other events at The Wright Center’s primary care practices and other locations in the community. Seitzinger sees it as a win-win: Employees make a difference in the communities they serve, and they raise public awareness about the affordable, high-quality primary and preventive health care services available by visiting The Wright Center’s clinics in Lackawanna, Luzerne, and Wayne counties.

“The Wright Center is federally funded, so in a sense, the community owns it,” said Seitzinger. “We’re trying to find ways to contribute to the community and get our staff out there to give back.”

The Wright Center for Patient & Community Engagement recently organized a school uniform giveaway for regional residents thanks to a donation from Starr Uniform. The program was at The Wright Center for Community Health Scranton Practice, 501 S. Washington Ave., Scranton.

Looking to the future, Seitzinger envisions building more lasting ways for PCE to help the community, including adding a permanent food pantry and a dedicated clothing closet. “Having the ability to have a food bank or a clothing closet right there in the clinic, that’s the next step,” she said.

Marrara echoed Seitzinger’s goals, noting that she’s excited to see how PCE will continue to grow over time.

“I’m proud of what we have become,” she said. “And I would venture to say that a year from now, I’ll be even prouder.”

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