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Grants expand Penn State Health community outreach

Dauphin County grants awarded to Penn State Health and its partner organizations are helping the health system expand its community impact and access to health services.

The funds support efforts ranging from providing nutritious food to at-risk individuals to offering live music performances in hospital lobbies.

The grants are part of Dauphin County allocations to local organizations from its share of gaming grant funds from the Hollywood Casino at Penn National. The most recent grants distributed across the county totaled $8.9 million. Projects that are typically funded include infrastructure, emergency services, transportation and human services.

Township partnership music to patients’ ears

Center Stage Arts in Health received $7,500 to help cover artists’ fees to perform live music in lobbies at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

A man and a woman sit side by side on a couch in a waiting room. Overhead, flags from many different countries are attached to the ceiling.

Vanessa Garcia, left, director of Medical Outreach
Service in Harrisburg, sits in the clinic’s waiting room and talks with Juan Romero Martinez about his health history.

“Entering a hospital can feel overwhelming for patients and their families and even for medical professionals,” said Claire de Boer, the program’s founding director. “The presence of live music in our lobbies and a shared smile with the musician offers a moment of respite. It humanizes the health care experience for everyone.”

The program partnered with Rush Township in northeastern Dauphin County to secure the grant. Because grant applicants must have a municipal sponsor, and Derry Township had already selected projects to support, de Boer reached out to Rush Township officials, who were pleased to sponsor the project. “That support underscores the impact the health system has throughout the county and region,” she said.

Church grant ensures health care access

Another partnership highlights the impact grants can have on improving access to health care.

Christ Lutheran Church in Harrisburg’s Allison Hill neighborhood houses Penn State Health Medical Outreach Service, a free clinic affiliated with Penn State Health Holy Spirit Medical Center.

“The historic building had sewer line issues that closed the church and the clinic for two weeks,” said Vanessa Garcia, director of the Medical Outreach Service. “This affected our ability to serve the population of Allison Hill and help to address health disparities in the community.”

Christ Lutheran Church Health Ministries received a $22,500 grant from the gaming allocations to repair and replace its main sewer line.

Allison Hill has among the highest number of socioeconomic barriers to health care in Penn State Health’s six-county outreach region. The nurse-operated clinic offers basic lab tests, physical assessments and health education as well as support with social service referrals, medication assistance and other health-related products.

Fresh food boosts health outcomes 

Penn State Health received a gaming grant of $15,000 in September 2023 to help improve the health of individuals who work in the equine industry by offering free dairy and protein foods. The initiative builds on the health system’s current program that provides fresh produce and health screenings.

“We bring in seasonal produce that we purchase from a local farmers market, which has been very supportive. But our community outreach team is doing so much more, including health screenings, health care navigation, intervention and connection to insurance options,” said Ashley Visco, Penn State Health community health director.

As one measure of program benefits, “we linked the consistent provision of produce to blood pressure to see how it would change over time and have seen lowered pressures,” said Tara Simmons, community health nurse.

“Penn State Health is committed to having a positive effect on communities to decrease health disparities. The Dauphin County gaming grants are one way we can have an even larger impact on people’s lives,” Visco said.

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