Center City: Library Expands Services to Include Health Literacy

The Free Library of Philadelphia offers many services to the community to help improve literacy and overall quality of life. Recently, the Parkway Central Library expanded programming to include health literacy through a program called the Reaching HEALthy Initiative.

The initiative is one of the first multi-professional health care programs that works with social workers, nurses and librarians to offer the best resources to community members. It is supported by the University of Pennsylvania’s President Engagement Prize, a program offered to graduating seniors that enables them to put their knowledge to work through bettering the community.

Melanie Mariano, a registered nurse and graduate of Penn, received the prize and has been working with the Reaching HEALthy Initiative to broaden the services provided by the library.


“The library is a great place to offer these services,” Mariano (above) said. “There are already so many resources available, so when people come in, they can now get their blood pressure checked or attend one of the health care workshops.”

Every Tuesday afternoon since July 2016, Mariano has been in the lobby of the library offering free blood pressure screenings for walk-in community members. With the grant provided through the president’s prize, she has also worked closely with other organizations to provide workshops and educational health literacy services to the community.

Bradley Moore, a program manager at the Health Care Improvement Foundation (HCIF), worked with Mariano to create a communicative strategies workshop for senior citizens. The goal of the workshop is to help seniors learn how to effectively communicate with their health care providers.


“Many medical terms are hard to understand and can be intimidating at times,” Moore said. “We want to bring practical and helpful workshops to the community to help seniors learn how to speak effectively with their doctors and pharmacists.”

Richard Saunders, a participant of the program, has been seeing a doctor regularly to keep up on his health. But when he has to go to the pharmacist, the process becomes intimidating and frustrating.

“There are so many people in the city now and not enough pharmacies in the city,” he said. “It’s scary how impersonal it has all become.”

According to a survey done by the National Center for Health Statistics under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 86 percent of citizens aged 65 to 74 are in contact with a doctor every six months or less. As the interaction with health care providers increases with age, the healthcare services and accessibility for seniors needs to increase as well.

“It would be nice to see more pharmacies and doctor’s offices in the city where more people are taking the time to speak individually with each patient,” Saunders said.

As the population continues to rise and the demand for pharmaceutical attention increases, many senior citizens receive less quality care and attention. According to an article published by U.S. News, the health care system is ill equipped to meet the demands of the growing senior citizen population.

That is why Moore and his team at HCIF have worked to create programs at the Free Library that are accessible and free to the public.

“People come [to the library] to seek job offers or study for a naturalization tests or take advantage of other free services,” Mariano said. “Now they can also receive free blood pressure screenings and attend free health literacy workshops.”

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-8-22-05-pmCarlotta Fariera and Miri Young are peer specialist educators who run the health literacy workshops under HCIF. They work for a program called SEPA-READS, which relies heavily on peer interaction to broaden health literacy.

“I have a passion for health and exercise and I wanted to educate other people my age about ways to help themselves,” Young said.

The workshop held on Nov. 9 was the first interactive workshop that Fariera and Young hosted after receiving their certification.

Participants were able to share their health care experiences and broaden their self-awareness in a safe and accessible space.

“I have a big family and, as everyone gets older, we start talking about health more and more,” Fariera said. “I wanted to help others. You need to talk about it and get it out in the open to be the best you can be.”

As the Reaching HEALthy Initiative increases its programming and services, Moore and the HCIF hope to expand the initiative to other libraries in the system and help more seniors receive attention and education they need.

“Health literacy is important,” Moore said. “By offering this service through the library, we realize that it is accessible and free to the public. I can see the program starting to expand and it’s very exciting.”

Now that the Free Library is expanding its programming to include and promote health literacy, community members can benefit even more from having a library in the community.

– Text, images and video by Taylor Schwartz.

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