Welcome HCIF’s Health Literacy Intern, Christina Gareis!

January 14, 2022

HCIF would like to welcome our newest intern Christina Gareis, MS! Christina will support HCIF’s statewide health literacy initiatives in 2022. She received her Master’s in Science from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Health at Thomas Jefferson University’s College of Population Health. Her public health interests include policy and advocacy, health literacy, and program planning. Christina previously worked on an international initiative related to menstrual health and hygiene. This work pushed her to develop culturally and linguistically appropriate education and solutions for women and girls in historically underserved communities. A fun fact about Christina is that she is a dual citizen of the US and Italy. Christina’s career goals include obtaining a doctorate in Public Health and working within the federal government to improve the nation’s health. 

The Pennsylvania Health Literacy Coalition, led by HCIF and Healthcare Council of Western Pennsylvania (HCWP), are thrilled to have Christina join us as we work to establish a culture of health literacy and equity throughout the Commonwealth.

President’s Update: December 2021

HCIF: A Study of a Highly Effective Board of Directors

Wendy Nickel

December 20, 2021

In 2019, attorney Thomas Hyatt authored a blogpost on the traits of high-performing boards. The traits include: full board involvement and a sense of engagement and participation; a respect for processes that further the organization’s mission; willingness to try new directions; strategic vs. operational focus; and an effective partnership with staff leadership. If I were to choose the characteristics that best describe HCIF’s Board of Directors, Hyatt seemed to read my mind a year before I even joined the organization. As a staff leader, I won the Board lottery!

Boards typically work behind the scenes in terms of driving strategic direction and organizational performance, and they don’t always get the credit they deserve. Although I have only been with HCIF for about 18 months, I am certain that HCIF has weathered the storms of the past 2 years because of the strength, commitment, and leadership of our Board members. Not only did our Board lead the organization through a search and leadership transition, they did this during the time of COVID – quite a challenging time to recruit and onboard a new leader. They proactively identified solutions and mitigation strategies to counter the financial ups and downs associated with the virus. They also reacted swiftly to the social justice issues of the summer of 2020 and made a powerful and committed statement about our organizational stance on racism. Finally, they have been active participants in an 8-month long strategic planning process to identify organizational priorities, including health equity, community engagement, and bridging population health and clinical care.

The Board has been capably and adeptly led by former Board chair, Steve Wray since 2017.  Steve has been a true partner in every sense of the word since I joined HCIF.  I recall my first Board meeting – 2 days after starting with the organization. I was nervous and (virtually) meeting some members for the first time.  I worried that I didn’t know Robert’s Rules very well, or that my technology wouldn’t work, or that one of my kids would interrupt the meeting. But Steve set the tone for the meeting, provided a little levity, and made me feel comfortable – as did all of our other Board members.

Mike Casey, our former vice-chair, was one of the first Board members I met during the interview process. With terrific business acumen, Mike has provided great strategic insights and recommendations during my tenure with the organization. I will always be grateful for his warm reception and gift of time during my first few months at HCIF. He has also been one of our go-to Board members to interview and recruit new members.

Joe Tate joined the Board as a consumer representative in 2016 and has provided great counsel on his experiences as a patient. Joe offered his legal expertise and guidance as we amended our bylaws in 2020 and has always contributed to our many strategic discussions.  Betty Craig also joined the Board in 2016 and brought her insights to our work from her role as a Chief Nursing Officer. Her contributions in providing firsthand accounts of clinician and patient experience has been essential to our work, especially during COVID.

Unfortunately, Steve, Mike, Joe, and Betty all had terms that expired at the end of 2021.  I am so appreciative of their commitment and contributions to HCIF and greatly value all that they have offered.  Now it’s time to welcome a new slate of leaders to the Board as we implement our new strategic roadmap. I am pleased to share that Patricia Sullivan, PhD, RN, Chief Quality Officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, will serve as our new Board Chair and Natalie Levkovich, Executive Director of the Health Federation of Philadelphia, will serve as our Vice-Chair.  I am looking forward to partnering with them on the next chapter of HCIF’s story. I am also excited to welcome Norm Weinstein to the Board for 2022. With our new leadership at the helm, I trust that we will continue to have a highly-effective and functioning Board that will continue to guide us as we encounter new triumphs and challenges.

President’s Update: November 2021

Wendy Nickel

November 30, 2021

November marks National Diabetes Month. For most of my career, the better part of 25 years or so, I have worked in programs focused on diabetes prevention and management. This disease is infuriating and no matter how many resources we seem to throw at it, it continues to rage on in our communities. What is most heartbreaking and frustrating about diabetes is how it ravages communities of color. African Americans are 60% more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes and are twice as likely to die from it. In Philadelphia, 17% of adults with diabetes are African American, while overall prevalence is 12% (Health of the City 2020, Department of Public Health, City of Philadelphia). Poor social conditions caused by systemic racism, such as poverty, lack of access to healthy food, and unsafe housing contribute to poorer outcomes.

While many of the programs I have been involved in throughout my career were noble in their efforts to improve prevention and management, they didn’t strike at some of the systemic issues that plague communities and cause diabetes in the first place.  For the first time, however, I feel hope that there is a way to combat diabetes.  With an “it takes a village approach,” HCIF’s Cities Changing Diabetes – Philadelphia program engages multiple stakeholders in addressing diabetes in innovative ways. What feels palpably different about this program is that it embraces the most vulnerable of communities, including recently incarcerated citizens, individuals living with disabilities, and other overlooked or underserved populations. The authentic engagement of these communities is how we embody our values and commitment to equity. Additionally, the program helps to integrate fundamental social determinants of health issues into diabetes prevention and management.

I have thought a lot about diabetes and equity recently. When you read about healthcare disparities in journal articles, it doesn’t quite hit home until you realize that people who you know are impacted by diabetes due to longstanding inequities. In trying to learn more about diabetes and disparities, I stumbled across the American Diabetes Association website and learned that they recently developed a Health Equity Bill of Rights: https://www.diabetes.org/healthequitynow

One of the rights impacted me the most:

#8: The right to a built environment that does not put you at greater risk for getting diabetes.

This is something that many of us take for granted – access to clean air, clean water, safe places to exercise and play, and access to healthy food. To address these issues, it will take a village to create innovative solutions and a community-based approach. I am comforted that a program like Cities Changing Diabetes exists and am hopeful that in another 25 years when I look back, it will serve as a model for how we can improve outcomes and decrease disparities in chronic conditions in cities across the country.