Located just outside of Pittsburgh, Braddock has the second-highest number of senior citizens living alone and in poverty in Allegheny County. In under-served communities, two of the most vulnerable population groups are older adults and young children.
A summer nutrition program created by students from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health aims to combat this problem by offering a free, balanced lunch to both young children and older adults who otherwise may not be able to afford one.
Called “Assembly of the Ages,” an inaugural event organized with local non-profit Heritage Community Initiatives brought together people under the age of 18 and over 55 for an afternoon of games and activities while they enjoyed a gourmet, chef-prepared lunch. At the event on July 18, seniors and children bonded as they wrote down personal goals in areas of wellness, nutrition, activities and social interaction. After lunch, seniors watched as the children played a game of kickball.
“The purpose of the program is to make sure families don’t have to make the difficult choice between paying a bill in the summer or putting food on the table for their children,” said Laura Kelley, director of business development at Heritage Community Initiatives, which serves about 50 meals and snacks daily in the summer to children in Braddock who qualify for the free lunch program during the school year.
The Assembly of Ages initiative was led by two interns through Bridging the Gaps, a program run out of Pitt Public Health. Bridging the Gaps promotes public health in under-served communities and trains health service professionals. Every year, it recruits future clinicians for an internship program where they are assigned to lead a project that will directly impact the community and have lasting effects after the summer ends.
This summer, Bridging the Gaps interns Amy Zahn from Pitt School of Pharmacy and Lan Pham from Pitt School of Nursing wanted a hands-on experience to get a better understanding of what patients may face in their daily lives.
“As future health care providers, we need to understand all the aspects that go into our patients’ care,” Zahn said. “The daily stressors will affect how somebody views their health, and through this internship, we’re learning exactly what those stressors are and why some [patients] may not be as adherent as we would like them to be.”
After hosting two Assembly of the Ages events, Zahn and Pham collected data and created a final project advising Heritage Community Initiatives on activities that will keep the children working toward their goals. Ultimately, Heritage Community Initiatives wants to routinely incorporate senior citizens into its program. Zahn and Pham are creating a plan to keep the lunches going throughout the year through the Heritage Grandparents Program.
“It’s a great way to bring the kids and seniors together,” said Shiane Prunty, community volunteer. “Some kids don’t have ideal parenting so this gives them some love, guidance and even helps teach them manners.”
University of Pittsburgh-bound student Jung An “Anna” Shin is the 2017 recipient of the UPMC St. Margaret’s Volunteer Services Scholarship for Outstanding Teen Volunteers. Students who receive this award must be graduating high school and have at least 100 volunteer hours. The award for $1,000 will go toward her college expenses.
Shin, who recently graduated from Fox Chapel high school, began volunteering at UPMC St. Margaret the summer before her freshman year. Because she plans to enter the medical field as either a neurologist or a neurosurgeon, volunteering at a hospital seemed like a perfect first step toward that goal.
“This volunteer opportunity was a great way for me to learn how to treat patients, as well as how to help make the hospital a more welcoming and less intimidating place,” she said. “Those are skills that will be very useful to me in the medical field someday.”
Some of Shin’s assignments at UPMC St. Margaret included Ambulatory Surgery and Food/Nutrition. She said these duties have affirmed her dreams for her career path.
“What I have learned every summer was unprecedented and valuable because I was able to personally interact with patients and their families,” Shin said. “Volunteering in a hospital definitely confirmed my desire to study a pre-medicine track and fueled my goal to become a physician.”
During her time as a volunteer, Shin was given various tasks and projects, some more difficult than others. According to Diane Kolling, director, UPMC St. Margaret Volunteer and Guest Services, Shin proved she was capable of any task she was given.
“Anna also was assigned to a pilot patient-mobility project, and I was really impressed with how flexible she was as we worked out the process, and how comfortable she was with patients.”
Shin is grateful to receive support in continuing her education.
“With the help of this scholarship and the experience I received through volunteering, I am on my way to becoming a physician who is confident, empathetic and respectful toward my patients and colleagues,” noted Shin.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Virginia Tech have developed a technique to study the complex and dynamic mechanical interactions between cells that make up blood vessels and the fibrous extracellular matrix that surrounds these cells. The findings, which could help us better understand the biology of aortic disease, were published in a special “Forces” issue of the journal Molecular Biology of the Cell, flagship journal of the American Society of Cell Biologists (ASCB).
Smooth muscle cells are muscle cells present in the walls of blood vessels undergo periodic expansion and contraction. The complex force signatures arising from this involve the interplay between the innate contractility of the cells and the forces exerted upon the cell by fibrous extracellular matrix, which structurally and functionally support these cells. To understand disease manifestation and progression, it is vitally important to study the forces and their disruption in disease.
Julie Phillippi, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Pitt’s Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery and affiliated with the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine studies the matrix and cell forces in blood vessel smooth muscle cells as a window to understanding aortic disease. The aorta, the largest artery in the body, carries oxygen-rich blood pumped out by the heart. Cardiovascular disease caused by high cholesterol for example, can result in a hardening and narrowing of the aorta.
“The key idea behind our study is to show that disease mechanisms might be detectable at the single cell level,” said Phillippi.
To understand the role of biomechanical forces in aortic disease, it is important to understand the forces exerted and felt by cells simultaneously. Dr. Phillippi teamed up with her collaborator Amrinder Nain, Ph.D., an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, who had built a device to do just that. The method, called nanonet force microscopy (NFM), utilizes extracellular mimicking fibers, which allows researchers to interrogate what cells experience in the body while also measuring individual cellular forces with a high level of precision.
The Alzheimer’s Association recently recognized Dr. William E. Klunk with the 2017 Zaven Khachaturian Award. The award was presented during this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London.
Klunk was recognized for his many contributions to Alzheimer’s research, including his influential work in regards to amyloid imaging, which is used to diagnose Alzheimer’s. His group’s initial work remains the most frequently cited research article in the field of Alzheimer’s disease neuroimaging since its publication in 2004.
Named in honor of noted scientist, administrator, consultant, lecturer and author, Dr. Zaven Khachaturian, the award recognizes an individual whose compelling vision, selfless dedication and extraordinary achievement has significantly advanced the field of Alzheimer science.
Dr. Maria C. Carrillo, chief science officer for the Alzheimer’s Association, said Klunk’s excellent work earned him the award.
“Dr. Klunk’s contributions to Alzheimer’s disease research have changed not only how we understand the disease today, but have been the harbinger of an era of prevention of Alzheimer’s based on this knowledge,” Carrillo said. “His work enabling amyloid imaging in the human brain has been transformational for the field of Alzheimer’s research. He is a tireless and dedicated researcher who is advancing our understanding of Alzheimer’s at the earliest stages.”
Klunk is a Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology and the Levidow-Pittsburgh Foundation Chair in Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Disorders at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He is also the co-director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Pitt, and the director of the Laboratory of Molecular Neuropharmacology at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.
To commemorate their fifth anniversary, UPMC East recently held an outdoor celebration for its employees and stakeholders from the community.
Under a large white tent, the crowd was peppered with leaders and staff including housekeeping, laboratory, dietary, technicians, nurses and doctors. Between nurses and doctors on lunch breaks and hospital executives smiling and shaking hands, it was a rare opportunity for everyone to come together and reflect on the past five years of operation.
Mark Sevco, president of UPMC East, said he takes pride in the evidence of success over the past five years. The increase in emergency department visits from 36,000 to 50,000 is just the tip of the iceberg.
“We continue to have aspirations to grow,” said Sevco.
Some examples of the impact the hospital has had since opening are:
- Primary Care Physicians have increased 50 percent from 100 to 150.
- The number of employees has doubled.
- There have been 219,899 ED visits.
- More than 21,000 surgeries across 10 different surgical services have been performed.
- Community benefits contributions of more than $30 million.
The impact and successes go far beyond the numbers.
“We’ve always talked about providing the ultimate patient care experience. Our numbers here have reflected your commitment to taking care of patients and supporting the community,” Sevco said to the tent full of health care providers and staff at the hospital. “It’s not about the brick-and-mortar. It’s not about the technology. It’s really about the relationships that you guys make along the way while taking care of patients.”
Many of the staff members in attendance have been there since the first day the hospital opened (and some even before), and the pride they have in their workplace was evident with every wide smile.
With the numbers and care UPMC East has delivered since its opening, they have a great foundation for growth in the next five years. Dr. Steve Shapiro, president of UPMC Health Services division, is optimistic about UPMC East’s future in the area.
“UPMC stands for high quality, affordable care with a great experience, and this is a growing area and we look forward to more growth and taking outstanding care of the community,” he said.
Behind all the innovations and successes to come, executives made the reasoning behind those successes clear: the people.
“I feel very blessed to be a part of this team and work with these associates here,” Sevco said. “The reason that East has continued to grow isn’t just because it’s beautiful — it’s because of the care that you’ve delivered.”