Temple Health student-run physical therapy center serves Spanish-speaking patients

The North Broad Physical Therapy Center will partner with Latinx community organizations to provide interpreters and bilingual caregivers.

Seth Kaufmann, a student physical therapist, observes a patient stretching during a physical therapy session on Wednesday at the North Broad Physical Therapy Center. | LUKE SMITH / THE TEMPLE NEWS

The North Broad Physical Therapy Center is implementing services for the Spanish-speaking community in North Philadelphia beginning this semester, but has a need for more licensed physical therapists to oversee sessions.

According to the center’s 2018 report, the College of Public Health’s student-run center had to close earlier some nights because there were not enough volunteer physicians, who are necessary for every session at the center. The center was open for two days a week in Fall 2018 but will now be open on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday every week during the spring semester.  

Monday and Thursday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

To find more licensed, Spanish-speaking physicians to volunteer, the center partnered with St. Veronica’s Catholic Church, a primarily Latinx parish on West Tioga Street near 6th, and Puentes de Salud, a nonprofit organization focused on education and healthcare in Philadelphia’s Latinx community. The organizations will also help provide interpreters to help volunteers communicate with people who only speak Spanish.

“Our community outreach, marketing and communication board members have done several community activities,” said Mary Sinnott, a physical therapy professor, who has led the center since it began in 2016. “There’s been community outreach to churches, schools, and primarily through faith-based organizations.”

Dr. Robert Ames, an orthopedic surgeon working with Puentes de Salud, offered its Spanish-speaking case managers to the center to eliminate the language barrier and treat more North Philadelphians.

Puentes de Salud provides care to uninsured Spanish-speaking patients, some of whom are undocumented, making it difficult for patients to seek healthcare outside of the organization but can be referred to the center, said Daphne Owen, the assistant medical director of Puentes de Salud.

“Those who get referred for care at NBPTC are very grateful for the opportunity to receive care that they would not otherwise receive,” Owen said.

The center provides free evaluation and treatment for patients with muscle, bone, joint, balance or neurological dysfunctions. The center serves low-income patients from all over North Philadelphia who are often referred by their doctors, said Jane Fagan, a licensed physical therapist at the center. A referral isn’t required, but most patients receive one, Sinnott said.

The center will also bring in Spanish-speaking Temple Health students and clinicians to work with patients who do not speak English.

“This is a great way for [physical therapy students] to build their professional self, everything from learning about the complexities about someone’s life, building cultural competence and cultural awareness and people’s life situations, a sense of confidence with communicating their clients,” Fagan said.

“It’s to see the patient’s care from the perspective of what’s important to that patient,” she added.

Gabbie Opalkowski, the center’s marketing and communications chair and a second-year physical therapy student, said all physical therapy students volunteer throughout the semester, with about 130 total students in the first- and second-year classes. But decreasing the center’s wait time requires obtaining more volunteer licensed physicians, which will allow patients to come in for treatment more frequently, Opalkowski said.

“We have a lot of students who volunteer regularly to the point where we had a maximum for the month because people were coming in; they’re very excited,” she said. “They want to come in and volunteer as much as they can, to practice their skills as much as they can. It’s really cool to see how excited people get about coming in and volunteering.”

The center is located on the Health Sciences Campus on West Ontario Street near North Park Avenue and reopened for the semester on Jan. 9

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