Pitt Medical School Students Step Up Amid Pandemic

By: Taylor Andres

From the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, students from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine stepped up to provide support to The 9th Street Clinic—a free health clinic run by the UPMC McKeesport Family Medicine Residency Program for uninsured and underserved patients, located in McKeesport.

“We have had the stalwart, ongoing support of medical resident Ben Zuchelkowski and a troop of medical student volunteers helping the clinic to stay open through the pandemic and serve our uninsured and homeless community of patients here in McKeesport,” said Dr. Victoria McCurry, medical director, The 9th Street Clinic. “We exist to provide free medical care to uninsured populations within the Mon Valley, although there’s no limit to who can get care here. It’s a primary care clinic run by mostly family doctors for patients age 18 and up.”

The 9th Street Clinic relies on regular volunteer assistance to provide services to patients, but many of these volunteers are older individuals. Due to concerns over contracting the virus, it was determined that those at risk should step down until it was safe to return.

“It was early March when I got the email saying The 9th Street Clinic had a staffing shortage due to their regular volunteers being older and unable to safely come into work,” said Zuchelkowski, an M.D. candidate in the Clinical Scientist Training Program at the Pitt School of Medicine. “We had this network of medical students ready to go and we got an overwhelming response.”

With the support of these students, The 9th Street Clinic continued to see new patients and provide ongoing medications, lab work and follow-up care. The clinic also implemented telemedicine visits and follow-ups by phone — an effort to protect older and more vulnerable patients from having to come into clinic to be seen during this time.

“Each of these brave medical students chose to remain on the front lines of The 9th Street Clinic’s function during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak here in McKeesport,” said McCurry. “All have remained safe and healthy throughout their time with us while demonstrating courage and an ongoing commitment to their medical callings.”

The students jumped in wherever they were needed to assist patients and staff in a variety of areas.

“These student volunteers were truly serving on the front lines during this pandemic: screening our patients at the door. They were willing to go the extra mile, sanitizing services and taking out the garbage,” said Lindsay Hermann, the clinic’s office manager. “They jumped on any opportunity to help, completing paperwork alongside younger patients who were without their guardians for the first time. They even did simple clerical work like faxing and coping documents for patients.”

One student was key to establishing the clinic’s telemedicine initiative— Dr. Stephanie Hum worked alongside McCurry and Hermann to address patient needs, like routine follow-ups and refills for chronic conditions, over the phone.

“On our telemedicine visit phone calls, I would go over the patient’s acute medical concerns, how they are managing their chronic medications and if they needed any medication refills,” explained Hum, who recently graduated from the Pitt School of Medicine. “After speaking with the patient, I would come up with a plan with Dr. McCurry, who would then call the patient back to confirm their final care plan. If we felt that the patient needed to be seen in person, we scheduled them at the clinic or sent them to the emergency department.”

Before the on-set of COVID-19, the clinic saw 25-35 patients per day for in-person visits. During the pandemic, the clinic served 10-12 patients in-person and had 5-10 telemedicine visits per day.

Other student volunteers from the Pitt School of Medicine included Jacqueline Visina, Nicole Paul, Mikaela Fenn, Sarah Minney, Eric Adams and Nateesh Sundaram.

“I think I can speak on behalf of our entire 9th Street Clinic — physicians, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, medical assistants and all other volunteers — to say how appreciative we are of the dedication and work that they have shown,” said McCurry.

To seek care or to find more information about The 9th Street Clinic, call (412) 664-4304.