In the summer of 1995, two University of Pennsylvania medical students, Rachel Werner and Liza Presser, initiated the creation of a free health clinic in West Philadelphia . During their participation in the Bridging the Gaps program that summer, they developed ideas to expand the existing University City Health Coalition (UCHC) clinic, which operated within the Church of Our Savior for the previous six years. It was funded by a slim budget provided by the University City Hospitality Coalition, the Medical School Government of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and glove sales each year. Rachel and Liza focused on soliciting funds, furthering the multidisciplinary nature of the clinic, and expanding a multidisciplinary clinic to another location.
At the same time, Eric Fleegler, another rising second year medical student was coordinating medical student volunteers through Lift A Hammer at the Habitat for Humanity site on Stiles Street in West Philadelphia. While working there, Eric realized that access to health care services in the community was inadequate and began exploring avenues to increase medical student involvement in this area. Eric submitted a proposal to Gail Morrison (then Vice-Dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine) outlining, among other things, a proposal that the University sponsor a home for a family and support the development of a weekly student-run free clinic. After speaking with Rachel and Liza, the three decided to combine their efforts and launched the process of organizing a second student-run, free clinic at the Habitat site. Eric also initiated discussions with the School of Medicine Administration (Adam Houtz and Chris Allen, Director of Ambulatory Care, University of Pennsylvania Health System) and Marla Davis (Director of Community Relations, University of Pennsylvania Health System) regarding the possibility of the School of Medicine adopting a building at the Habitat site for a physician's office that could be used in the evenings for a new free clinic.
Rachel and Liza wrote a proposal detailing the core concepts of the UCHC Clinic and the possible location of a new site for a second clinic, at Habitat for Humanity. This proposal was sent to two associations, The Philadelphia Foundation and the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church. The Philadelphia Foundation awarded a $7000 grant to be used by the UCHC Clinic (magnitudes above their average $1500 yearly budget). The Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church initially awarded $2000 for a new clinic, and offered an additional $8,000 to be distributed at the church's discretion.
Students spearheaded further fundraising efforts. First, at Adam Houtz' suggestion, Eric submitted a proposal to the Wharton Undergraduate Management 100 class to sponsor 12 freshman in a community project that would raise funds and community awareness of the project. Through a direct mailing solicitation of 101 local companies, Wharton students raised $3250 for the clinic. In addition, they coordinated a disco-night at Sloppy Joe's that raised $450. The Social Work Society donated $200. Eric and Colleen Monaghan, a medical student and coordinator at UCHC, gave a presentation to GAPSA to elicit their support, resulting in a grant of $5,000 for the multidisciplinary clinic.
Colleen and Eric created a formal presentation, for September, to the deans of the various graduate schools, interested faculty, and student leaders. At that time, students felt that the clinic would be ready to open on October 16, 1995 in the Habitat for Humanity building. The deans offered their support, but were concerned that the planned opening day was premature. They recommended completing a formal needs assessment for the community and reassessing the timing of other preparations to ensure they would be complete before opening.
Interested students from the dental, law, nursing, and medical schools formed a steering committee to guide clinic development, eventually involving social work and veterinary students as well. The committee met weekly to write a mission statement, plan services that would be offered, and discuss strategies for involving the community. Several subcommittees were formed to address various tasks, including education, community relations, fundraising, and student training.
One of the most important initial tasks was finding an appropriate location for the clinic. Eric, Colleen, and Marla visited potential sites in the Cathedral Park neighborhood. They met with Ms. Minis, the president of the Cathedral Park Association, to discuss the project and solicit her input. Potential locations for the clinic were considered, including a local gym and several Habitat for Humanity buildings. Colleen and David presented to the board of directors of Habitat for Humanity a petition to use of one of their buildings for the clinic. The board decided that they could not provide a site for the clinic. Instead, they offered to facilitate discussions between one of the local churches, the Union Tabernacle Church , the Medical Center , and their insurance company, because this church had no liability insurance. The medical school's legal department advised that while professional liability is covered by the hospital policy, physical liability must be provided by the site. Reverend Gaines from the Union Tabernacle expressed interest in obtaining liability insurance but stated that he been unsuccessful finding a company willing to insure his building. During this time, students from the School of Nursing performed an assessment of the Cathedral Park community as part of a class assignment. They analyzed demographic data and interviewed residents, eventually outlining the churches and schools in the area. They presented their completed assessment to the steering committee. The Reverend from Mother of Our Sorrows Church heard about the clinic and contacted Marla Davis to ask that his church be considered as a potential site. This church is located just outside the boundaries of Cathedral Park and would still be accessible to the people of that neighborhood. Thus, after several months of visiting sites and investigating two sites in depth, the search was expanded to include areas outside of Cathedral Park .
In January of 1996, while pursuing other potential sites, Adam Houtz contacted Eric to recommend the First African Presbyterian Church in the East Parkside community. Reverend Pinkney from First African expressed great interest in the clinic. In addition, the church had liability insurance, adequate space and storage, and was willing to arrange transportation and security. A group of students from the steering committee, along with Marla Davis, visited the First African Presbyterian Church to present the clinic concept to the Reverend and to ask for his feedback and opinion about having the clinic at the church. After the elders accepted the initial presentation, the Reverend arranged for students to come to the church to present the clinic project to the church elders and other community leaders. Representatives from each school came to the church and approximately 50 people from the church, other local churches, and the community were present to listen to the presentation. Questions from the church elders and community members addressed faculty supervision, malpractice, and continuity, among other concerns.
The University of Pennsylvania then began the process of negotiating a legal contract outlining the relationship of the University, the School of Medicine , and the church. This process took about two months to complete. During that time, students went out into the community with a community needs questionnaire as part of a formal community needs assessment. A sub-committee of students worked to design a comprehensive training program for all students interested in volunteering at the clinic. They planned a school-wide training seminar, invited guest speakers, made pamphlets, and conducted the seminar which was attended by approximately 100 students from all of the graduate schools involved. Because summer was approaching, the opening of the clinic was delayed until the fall. In the fall of 1996, the clinic opened and has served thousands of community members since then.