Insights & Expertise

Saint Joseph’s, Mercy Catholic Medical Center Propose Global Model for Healthcare Providers Serving Undocumented Populations

health care worker using blood pressure cuff

Life expectancy can vary more than 20 years depending on the zip code of a resident in Philadelphia. In the city, health outcomes tend to be poorer and barriers to health care greater for minorities and particularly for immigrant populations. With the goal of changing troubling trends like these, Saint Joseph’s University and Mercy Catholic Medical Center developed the Mercy Health Promoter model to serve the Hispanic immigrant population in Philadelphia amid growing need, but with a design that can be scaled globally.

After a comprehensive needs assessment, the two institutions jointly developed the Mercy Health Promoter (MHP) model, a comprehensive education and prevention community-based outreach model that concentrates on the health needs of specific immigrant communities. Members of the immigrant population are trained as health promoters to serve others in their community through health education and access to important services. The group published their findings in the Internet Journal of Public Health.

“The increase of undocumented immigrants residing in the United States and here in West Philadelphia presents new and unique challenges to the existing health care delivery system,” said Sister Donna Watto, RSM, Vice President of Mission Integration, Mercy Catholic Medical Center. “Catholic health care calls for new ways to treat and care for vulnerable communities and that is what we’ve done through the health promoters program.”

Based on the program’s success in Philadelphia’s African populations in 2014, the Institute and Mercy collaborated with local church communities to bring this model to the Hispanic immigrant population surrounding parishes in West Philadelphia. The model’s foundation is based on an established program commonly used in developing nations, which has not only increased medical care in remote areas, but has also saved countless lives.

“If Americans truly believe that we are all created equal, we should also insist that we all must receive equal access to medical treatment and resources,” says Peter Clark, S.J., Ph.D., first author on the paper, Director of the Institute of Clinical Bioethics, and John McShain Chair of Ethics at Saint Joseph’s. “Unless Americans address these disparities and begin to eradicate them, we will never attain the goal of providing high-quality, equitable health care in our country.”

The team’s research gives special attention to the ethical considerations of the Health Promoter Program, exploring principles of beneficence and distributive justice by highlighting the human dignity of each person no matter race, ethnicity, creed, socioeconomic status or immigration status.

“Our work with the Mercy Health Promoter Model has the opportunity to set a precedent and offer a framework for future applications across the country and globe,” believes Fr. Clark.