As a longtime resident of North Philadelphia, Priscilla Bennett knows the struggles faced by her economically distressed community.

She says many residents have post-traumatic stress syndrome due to worrying about gun violence, eating and maintaining housing.

“It’s just day after day of survival,” said Bennett, who is a Project HOME Advisory Board member.

She looks forward to a new initiative to address significant health disparities in North Philadelphia where more than 45% of residents are living in poverty. Bennett hopes the program will help some residents receive the mental health services they need to deal with their stress.

Project HOME, Independence Blue Cross and AmeriHealth Caritas have partnered to launch “Keystone Connection to Wellness.” The program seeks to connect Project HOME patients with resources beyond their immediate medical needs.

“Poverty and homelessness are harsh realities that affect too many people and too many neighborhoods in our city,” Sister Mary Scullion, Project HOME president and executive said during a press conference held Friday at the Stephen Klein Wellness Center.

“In order to make systemic, fundamental and sustainable change we must work together in a public, private partnership. The leadership of Independence Blue Cross and AmeriHealth Caritas, along with the commitment of our city and our state enables us to celebrate another step forward in combating homelessness and poverty.”

Project HOME, with financial and operational support from Independence and AmeriHealth Caritas, will work with social service and health organizations to form an association of services to address social determinants of health.

The initiative seeks to address the disparities in life expectancy and infant mortality experienced by residents living in two targeted ZIP codes — 19121 and 19132. In these ZIP codes, life expectancy is roughly 69 years versus 75.5 for the city and infant mortality is 13.1 deaths per 1,000 — 56% greater than the city as a whole and 126% above the national rate.

“We cannot tackle the difficult task of improving the health of people in our region without a team effort,” said Daniel Hilferty, CEO of Independence Health Group.

“That is why we are so pleased to work with Project HOME to address directly the health disparities in North Philadelphia. By engaging with the community and providing information and access to much-needed services, we believe that this initiative can address health issues before they become dire.”

“There are too many people and communities that face significant and often crippling, health disparities because of gaps in access to the social determinants of health, like jobs, affordable housing and nutritious food and support networks,” AmeriHealth Caritas Chairman and CEO Paul A. Tufano said.

“By building strong coalitions between business and community organizations to bridge those gaps, as we’re doing with Project HOME, we can help our most vulnerable citizens find pathways to prosperity and independence.”

He noted that social determinants impact 80 percent of a person’s health.

“The poor don’t want to be poor,” Tufano said.

“They want a hand up, not a hand out, so helping them overcomes those challenges around the social of health are key.”

Three North Philadelphia Project HOME locations will serve as hubs for the program, the Stephen Klein Wellness Center, Honickman Learning Center Comcast Technology Labs and the Helen Brown Community Center.

“Keystone Connection to Wellness” will rely on the input of the community advisory board to help find the most appropriate ways to disrupt the connection between poverty and health disparities. The initiative will expand access to services like affordable childcare, food security, transportation, housing, behavioral health and employment opportunities which can impact improved health outcomes.

Project HOME will also launch a community advisory board to help guide priorities and build on neighborhood strengths focused on improving health and quality of life for residents of the targeted ZIP codes.

ajones@phillytrib.com (215) 893-5747

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