Typing in “Philadelphia,” “homeless” and “church,” Ian McCurry, then a freshman in the School of Nursing, found a way to reach out to a vulnerable community that he could assist and support using his growing knowledge of health care. He soon found that he was learning as much from the homeless people he served as they did from him.
“Over the years I became a familiar face, and once they figured out I was a nursing student, suddenly all their health questions were coming my way,” says McCurry. “I started to ask them questions back, like, ‘Where are you getting your health care, what does your insurance picture look like, or do you have a primary care provider?’”
Their answers told McCurry that, although resources existed to provide homeless and other underserved populations with health insurance and care, the resources weren’t always making their way to the people who needed them.
Now, McCurry and friend and classmate Marcus Henderson are aiming to make those connections a reality for a group of homeless people in the shelter system of the non-profit Bethesda Project.
Their vision has earned them a 2017 Penn President’s Engagement Prize for their project, “Homeless Health and Nursing: Building Community Partnerships for a Healthier Future.” McCurry and Henderson will receive mentoring from Terri Lipman, assistant dean for community engagement and the Miriam Stirl Endowed Term Professor of Nutrition in Penn Nursing, who herself has a long track record of leading community health programs.
Henderson, a Philadelphia native, and McCurry, from Somerset, Mass., both entered the nursing field after transformative experiences as young people. Henderson himself became a caregiver to his great-grandmother and great-aunt while he was still in grade school.
“As a 12-year-old boy I was one of their primary caregivers,” he says. “Each and every day after school I went home to give my family relief, so they could do what they needed to do that day, and I would provide personal care, hygiene care, medications, you name it. It was a life-changing experience for me to be able to care for family members at such an intimate level. Being able to use that connection to care for other people is really why I went into nursing.”
McCurry was influenced by his mother, a nurse practitioner, professor and former emergency department nurse. As a teen, he worked as a counselor at a camp for adults with intellectual disabilities, and later went on to work for the state of Massachusetts as a direct care provider for adults with disabilities.
“The lines between direct care and nursing were very blurred,” McCurry says. “It became clear that I wanted to work with individuals through their illnesses when they really need assistance.”
Henderson and McCurry didn’t apply for the President’s Engagement Prize on a whim. Their proposal is the outgrowth of years of work in the area of increasing health equity and access to health care.
Both had been working at Penn Nursing’s Center for Health Equity Research since their sophomore years. Assisting Lipman and professor Janet Deatrick, they performed research and organized training sessions in health disparities.
It was a life-changing experience for me to be able to care for family members at such an intimate level. Being able to use that connection to care for other people is really why I went into nursing.
Marcus Henderson and Ian McCurry
Homeless Health and Nursing
Henderson and McCurry are integrating innovative healthcare case management into the current program of homeless services offered by the Bethesda Project, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that provides proactive case management and housing services to the homeless population. Through their work with Bethesda and other key partners, Henderson and McCurry seek to decrease health disparities and increase access to high-quality, person-centered healthcare for this underserved population.
Terri Lipman, Professor and Assistant Dean for Community Engagement, School of Nursing
Lanzando Líderes (Launching Leaders) is an afterschool youth leadership development program for Latino high school students. The program equips students with the knowledge and skills to become leaders in their own lives and in their communities.
Patel is helping women about to be released from Riverside Correctional Facility, an all-female facility in Philadelphia, apply for and secure health insurance and identification prior to release. The health insurance will allow these women to stay on their much-needed medication, which will aid in the reentry process.