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Community Health Advocates

Community Health Advocates helping patients find housing

Community Health Advocates

Every day, the health of individuals is impacted by their social status, stress, early life, economic opportunities, safety of community and workplace, and availability of quality schooling, food and transportation.

These social determinants of health (SDOH) are the economic and social conditions that influence individual and group differences in health status.

Our Community Health Advocate (CHA) team has worked aggressively to help patients address these issues. Most recently, our CHA’s have partnered with RIHousing and ONE Neighborhood builders to place patients in long-term living situations, recently enrolling the sixth patient in permanent housing. Over the summer, the partnership enrolled its first family in housing, a mother and her three children who had been homeless for the past four years.

The CHA’s role is to support the patient in their transition from homelessness to ensure they stay housed and engaged with their primary care team. The CHA assists with the lease signing, utilities set up, finding furniture/donations, checking in on rent payments, applying for SSI and SNAP, finding employment and transportation. They do this through weekly follow-up visits with the patients. Thank you to our CHA team for partnering with others to change the lives of people in the community.

Interns find new ways to contribute during pandemic

Interns find new ways to contribute during pandemic

Pharm interns masked  team

Businesses and schools everywhere had to adjust how they operate over the last several months as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country. For a group of interns – and their supervisors -- at The Providence Community Health Centers, it meant finding new, mostly virtual, ways to contribute.

Many of the interns were originally going to work at a second COVID-19 testing site. When that site did not come to fruition, new duties were designated to the 12 interns, whose work was coordinated and supervised by a variety of PCHC staff including Dr. Andrew Saal, Chief Medical Officer, and various members of the clinical, administrative, and human resources team.

“Internships are invaluable to young people looking to gain hands-on experience,” said Cheryl Perry, Vice President, Chief Marketing & Human Resources Officer at PCHC. “Their contributions help us advance our cause of creating a healthier community. This group of interns was impressive and enthusiastic and we look forward to seeing what they will do next.”

Kathryn Sullivan, who just started her senior year at North Carolina State University, was originally slated to work in the second COVID testing tent. Instead, she went to work with Dr. Jonathon Gates, Chief Medical Officer for Accountable Care, and Daniel McGuire, Director of Population Health. Here, she learned about the care gap that exists locally and nationally. She helped outreach to patients, particularly those who needed colorectal cancer screening.

Kathryn, who is originally from North Kingstown, is now applying to Physician Assistant programs as the next step in her educational journey.

Katelyn Loyo, a Providence native who graduated from E-Cubed Academy, worked directly with Graciela Morales, patient engagement coordinator, as well as other staff members. Graciela taught Katelyn how to work with patients to best direct them to resources inside and outside of PCHC.

“While speaking to patients, they talked about how happy they are with the services PCHC offers,” said Katelyn. “That’s very important for patients to feel like they’re in great hands.”

Katelyn wants to pursue a career in nursing, following in the footsteps of her grandmother who is a nurse in Guatemala.

Benjamin Coleman from North Kingstown also worked in the Accountable Care Organization with Dr. Gates, Dan McGuire, and Graciela Morales. There, his eyes were opened to PCHC’s efforts to address a patient’s health before they get sick. “Working on the ACO team taught me a lot about preventive health care and the importance of prioritizing one’s health year-round through recommended screenings, a proper diet, and an active lifestyle,” he said.

As part of the colorectal screening effort at PCHC, Ben spent time on the phone with patients, learning more about their specific challenges and he says, “the barriers that often impede Americans from receiving access to medical care.” Ben is interested in attending medical school after graduating from the University of Miami.

Amy Burt, a junior at Unity College in Maine, served her internship updating policies and performing data entry. She worked in a variety of roles and was supervised by several PCHC staff members. No matter the assignment, she said there was one consistent theme.

“The mission statement of PCHC shined through in all the tasks I was assigned,” she said. “Three core values stood out to me throughout my experience: cultural competency, compassion, and respect. All of these actions promoted a productive and safe environment.”

Amy plans on becoming a licensed clinical social worker but is still open to other career options. “I know whatever I do,” she said, “I will stay true to my goal of helping others.”

A brother and sister from North Kingstown -- Nicolette and Maximino Naya -- spent the summer interning at PCHC.

Nicolette, who just started her senior year at the University of Connecticut, thought she was returning to an internship she held previously at Tiffany & Co. When that was cancelled due to the pandemic, she took on an internship at PCHC, learning about Electronic Health Records under the guidance of Sharon Joseph, Director of Health Information and HIPPA Compliance. While Nicolette said she is not considering a career in healthcare, she learned a lot over the summer and grew appreciative of the work that goes on every day at PCHC.

Max, a student at Stetson University in Florida, intended to spend the summer studying overseas but his plan was derailed because of COVID-19. Instead, he interned at PCHC, assisting with the organization’s marketing and social media efforts, working closely with Susana Conklin, Chief of Staff. As Max is considering a career in marketing or sales, it was a perfect fit at an organization where he could feel good about contributing. “I saw firsthand that PCHC is always actively trying to better itself to be able to best serve their community,” said Max.

Elizabeth Pekar from North Kingstown is a senior at The George Washington University. She worked with clinical pharmacist Lillian Nieves, who she describes as “extremely knowledgeable, kind, and a great teacher,” during her internship. Elizabeth, who wants to become a Physician Assistant, said she learned a lot during her time in the pharmacy including “common practices and protocols to detailed population health projects that Lillian is working on to better the PCHC community. I have also learned about the amazing work that PCHC is doing to provide equal access to healthcare, which is not only extremely encouraging, but inspiring.”

Elizabeth is pictured on the right, along with (from left to right) Lea Diaz, PCHC Certified Technician II, Gabrielle Davis, Pharmacy Summer Intern, and clinical pharmacist Lillian Nieves.

Kristina Krashovats, who is originally from Russia and attends Truman State University in Missouri, learned about the multiple factors that can influence health care finances. She was not one of the summer interns originally targeted to work in the COVID tent; instead, she applied for a competitive internship slot at PCHC and was chosen because of her background and interest in finance.

While she has focused on banking and other industries as a finance major, it was her first time working in health care. “Before the internship, I prepared by reading “accounting for healthcare” textbooks,” said Kristina. “All the numbers were given to me. For example, revenue was simply the product of charge per visit and total number of visits.”

Her real life experience was different as Kristina learned much more about analyzing statistics, profitability, and even anatomy to more deeply understand the world of healthcare finance.

“I had to figure out all the potential cost sources and activities involved in the process of treatment, and collaborate with specialists like an opthalmologist to ensure my assumptions and research conclusions were valid,” said Kristina. “This was definitely a new and exciting experience for me.”

chat skypeAnastasia Paraliticci, a North Kingstown native who is a student at the University of Rhode Island, worked over the summer as an intern in community outreach. She helped “inform the public about how to access health care, services which many people were not aware of”, while working with Adriana Vargas, Director of Community Outreach. Anastasia enjoyed speaking Spanish with Adriana (which she says is “something I don’t get to do very often outside of my household.”) She also saw the importance of relationships in community outreach, noting that Adriana “is very outgoing and knows everyone in Providence and all surrounding communities.”

“Student interns always bring a fresh perspective,” said Adriana of her time mentoring Anastasia and other interns. “Their analytical, writing, research, project and interpersonal skills make a great difference in the work being done here. This has been the case with Anastasia who brought many skills, and most important, a wiliness and readiness to support the advancement of many projects.”


PCHC to be recognized for COVID response by RI Public Health Association

PCHC to be recognized for COVID response by RI Public Health Association

On November 12th, the Providence Community Health Centers will be recognized with the 2020 Meritorious Program Award at the 23rd annual meeting of the Rhode Island Public Health Association. This award is presented to a group that has made significant contributions to the advancement of public health in Rhode Island at the federal, state, or local level. Criteria is based upon recognition by a group of public health peers familiar with the development and advancement of public health in Rhode Island.

PCHC is being honored for our outstanding response during the early COVID-19 outbreak including leadership, community advocacy focused on housing and domestic violence, and using data to identify health disparities. Accepting on behalf of PCHC at this virtual event will be Dr. Andrew Saal, Chief Medical Officer, Chelsea De Paula, MPH, Manager of Community Integration & Social Determinant of Health Strategy, and Daniel C. McGuire, Director of Population Health. Congratulations to everyone involved for helping PCHC achieve this recognition.

PCHC utilizing mailed tests to ensure Colorectal Cancer Screening continues

PCHC utilizing mailed tests to ensure Colorectal Cancer Screening continues

Since March, most routine health screenings have been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Providence Community Health Centers (PCHC) is creatively addressing the need for colorectal cancer screening with tests that are mailed to the patient’s home, completed, and returned by mail to be tested in a laboratory.

The fecal immunochemical test (FIT) is an inexpensive, at-home colorectal cancer screening method that checks for traces of blood and proteins in the patient’s stool that cannot be seen by the naked eye. Patients with suspicious test results are scheduled for a follow-up colonoscopy. About 1 out of 7 FIT tests results are abnormal, but an abnormal FIT test does not mean cancer is present, only that a colonoscopy is necessary to find out why there was microscopic blood in the stool. The first tests were mailed out by PCHC earlier this month, with a total of 3,700 patients currently in need of screening this year. Learn more about the tests here: https://www.providencechc.org/colorectal-cancer/

PCHC utilized data from its Electronic Medical Record to identify patients who needed screening and did not have a test ordered or had not completed a previously-scheduled test. While FIT is not as accurate as a traditional colonoscopy, it allows for effective screening in remote health care settings, making it very useful during times of mandated social distancing. FIT testing, in addition to being more acceptable to many patients, also frees up limited colonoscopy appointments for patients likely to need them, and the FIT test can be completed in the privacy of patients home – without taking a day off work or childcare and finding a responsible adult to escort you after the anesthesia used during a colonoscopy.

“At a time when most routine health screenings have been delayed, FIT screening is a valuable tool that allows us to continue screening at-risk populations for colorectal cancer,” said Dr. Jonathan Gates, Chief Medical Officer for Accountable Care at PCHC. “Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we must continue to find creative ways to advocate for disease prevention and detection. FIT testing is preferred by many patients who would not otherwise accept the more invasive colonoscopic screening.”

The process in completing a FIT test is a simple one. A kit including a small stick and bottle are mailed to the patient’s home. The patient uses the stick to obtain a small stool sample, which they place in the bottle. That sample is then mailed back to PCHC’s electronically interfaced lab, East Side Clinical Laboratory in most cases. The test is then conducted in a laboratory with technicians searching for small amounts of blood in the stool that are often undetectable with the human eye.

FIT tests are only good for a year by U.S. Preventive Services Task Force guidelines; by contrast, a colonoscopy – if totally normal – is good for 10 years.  But a one year reprieve from colonoscopy in today’s world can make all the difference, using our limited colonoscopy appointments on the patients most likely to have abnormalities or colorectal cancer.

FIT testing isn’t for everyone – patients with a family history of early colorectal cancer, those who have had irradiation to the abdomen, and those with past abnormal colonoscopies or known inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis are not candidates for FIT Testing. Patients with hereditary genetic predispositions to colon cancer (HNPCC and Familial Adenoma Polyposis are two) also require colonoscopy as the only test.

Still, FIT testing is a useful tool in diagnosing colorectal cancer, which is the second-highest cause of cancer deaths in the United States. It is estimated that nearly 23 million adults aged 50 to 75 are past due for screening, and an estimated 53,000 Americans will die from colorectal cancer this year.


fit test how to collect stool sample

Merrill Thomas recognized with 2020 Leaders & Achievers Award

Merrill Thomas recognized with 2020 Leaders & Achievers Award

Merrill Thomas, President and CEO of The Providence Community Health Centers (PCHC), has been recognized as a “2020 Leaders & Achievers” awardee by the Providence Business News.

The 25 individuals recognized were chosen based on their leadership, achievements, and longstanding commitment to the business community, as well as a sustained demonstration of leading others, community service, and mentoring in the region. The executives honored in this year’s program work in various industries and sectors, including health care, government, nonprofit, real estate, finance, and manufacturing.

Next year will mark 20 years since Thomas was named President and CEO of PCHC. During that time, he has worked with an outstanding group of clinicians, support staff, leaders, and the Board of Directors to double the number of patients served. Last year, PCHC provided care to more than 60,000 Rhode Islanders, its highest total ever.

During Thomas’s time at the helm of PCHC, the organization has launched numerous new sites and programs with a goal of best serving the community. PCHC’s operating budget has grown from $7 million to $70 million during that time and the staff has grown to more than 540.

The honorees will be recognized at a virtual awards ceremony on August 20th.

fit test how to collect stool sample

PCHC Welcomes Five Physicians Summer 2019

PCHC Welcomes Five Physicians Summer 2019

AUGUST 13, 2019

Claudia Clarke, DO, Internal Medicine-Pediatrics – PCHC Central
Dr. Clarke earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biopsychology and Biomedical Engineering Systems from Tufts University; her Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine from Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. After completing her Internal Medicine and Pediatrics residency training at the State University of New York - University at Buffalo, Dr. Clarke cared for patients at an inner city community health center near Boston, MA. She is committed to caring for both children and adults. Her clinical interests include Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) and caring for adult survivors of childhood diseases. Claudia is first-generation Jamaican-American and is bilingual, English and Spanish. In her free time, Dr. Clarke enjoys bird watching, kayaking and snowshoeing.

Sheldon Malcolm, DO, Family Medicine – PCHC Prairie
Dr. Malcolm received his Bachelor’s degree from Bates College and is a graduate of University of New England College of Osteopathic. He completed his family medicine residency at Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island/Brown Family Medicine Residency. He was most recently practicing in North Providence and looks forward to meeting his new patients at PCHC Prairie Avenue. When Sheldon is not working, he enjoys gardening, yoga and spending time with his family. Sheldon is joining PCHC this summer, replacing Dr. Cesar Mora who is moving to PCHC Express.

Zein Farhat, MD, Family Medicine – PCHC Chafee
Dr. Farhat earned his Bachelor of Sciences degree from the American University of Beirut in Lebanon; and his medical degree from University of Balamand, School of Medicine in Lebanon. Dr. Farhat completed his Family and Community Medicine Residency program at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland where he is Chief Resident and a member of the Family Medicine Residency Educational committee. Prior to his residency, Dr. Farhat completed a Public Health Fellowship at the department of Pharmaceutical Health Services Research with the University of Maryland, School of Pharmacy. In his free time, Zein enjoys traveling, swimming and playing soccer. He has relocated to Rhode Island with his wife and their one-year-old son.

Ekknoor Sahota, MD, Internal Medicine – PCHC Olneyville 
Dr. Sahota received her Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery from Dayanand Medical College and Hospital in India, and completed her residency in Internal Medicine with Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Dr. Sahota also completed a fellowship in Patient Safety and Quality Improvement in Pittsburgh. Ekknoor was raised in India, moved to Canada and then to Pennsylvania. She recently relocated to Rhode Island. Dr. Sahota is fluent in English, Hindi and Punjabi. In her free time, Ekknoor enjoys biking, hiking and other outdoor activities. Dr. Sahota will be serving Dr. Erick Soria-Galvarro’s patients as Dr. Soria is moving to a Float provider position with PCHC while his family prepares to leave Rhode Island.

Ursulina Bencosme, MD, MPH, Pediatrician – PCHC Central
Dr. Bencosme earned her Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from St. Joseph’s College; her Doctor of Medicine from Cornell University Medical College; and her Master of Public Health from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Dr. Bencosme completed her Pediatric residency with Brown University at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence and is excited to be moving back to Rhode Island. Dr. Bencosme has nearly 20 years of experience providing primary care to children and adolescents. As both a Pediatrician and Assistant Medical Director of Children’s Aid in New York, Dr. Bencosme has also had significant involvement implementing programs and trainings in foster care health. In her free time, Ursulina enjoys traveling, cooking and spending time with her husband, son and daughter. She is bilingual English/Spanish. Dr. Bencosme will be caring for Dr. Ellen Gurney’s patients when Dr. Gurney retires at the end of the summer.

Please join us in welcoming everyone to PCHC.


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