Addressing Homeless Health Disparities with Community Partnerships
In May 2017, we spoke with Marcus Henderson, BSN, as he was completing his degree at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. Since then, he has taken on a new role as co-founder and chief operations officer (COO) of Up and Running Healthcare Solutions, which was born from a project entitled "Homeless Health and Nursing: Building Community Partnerships for a Healthier Future." Marcus and co-founder, Ian McCurry, BSN, RN, developed this project to address health disparities facing homeless individuals in Philadelphia, Penn. Marcus and Ian, who met while working as research assistants in the Penn Nursing Center for Health Equity Research, recently received the 2017 Penn President’s Engagement Prize for their idea. Receiving the award allows them to further develop their program while they simultaneously work within the public health field.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there were 15,421 homeless people in Philadelphia in 2015. Ian and Marcus have experienced firsthand how nurses and small interventions can make a big difference in addressing health disparities the homeless population often face.
“I started working in the homeless mission at my church when I was a sophomore in college,” Ian said. “I would wear a nursing fleece from time to time at the homeless mission and people began to ask me questions about healthcare. At the time I was a second-year nursing student, so I wasn’t able to fully answer their questions, but I began to think about the aspects of their problems I could work on at some point.”
While pursuing his undergraduate degree, Marcus was on the National Student Nurses’ Association (NSNA) Board of Directors and was president of the Student Nurses’ Association of Pennsylvania (SNAP), which he credits with providing him with business skills and the ability to effectively advocate for nursing students, nursing education and other healthcare and nursing issues.
“Being an effective advocate is vital to my work today because I am serving as a voice for Philadelphia’s most vulnerable and ensuring they are able to lead healthier lives in the community,” Marcus said.
During Marcus’ senior year, he worked as a school nurse at a local Philadelphia high school, exposing him to the wide array of social determinants of health affecting individuals, families, and communities. From this experience, he was able to see nursing’s role in addressing these social determinants of health and the potential nursing has in affecting change to help individuals thrive where they live.
Through their program, Marcus and Ian are building a network of individuals and organizations specializing in community engagement, homelessness care, community-based care and health centers committed to addressing health disparities homeless populations face. The pair has already enlisted the Bethesda Project and the National Nurse-led Care Consortium, to name a few. Their goal is to eventually develop the program into an evidence-based model that can be translated to vulnerable populations nationwide.
While Marcus and Ian prioritize developing Up and Running Healthcare Solutions, they are engaged in other work outside of their organization. Marcus is president of ASH Theater Company and mentors high school students interested in health careers through PENN HOSA-Future Health Professionals. Ian works as a chaplain at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Marcus and Ian both plan to pursue graduate and doctoral degrees to further fuel their passions for public health, health policy, and holistic care all while caring for underserved populations.
Throughout the transition from student nurses to new nurses, Marcus and Ian attribute their unconventional post-graduation paths to believing in their idea.
“You never know what resources and doors will open until you knock. Be tenacious and go for it,” Ian said.
Learn more about Up and Running Healthcare Solutions here. To learn more about what inspired Marcus to become a nurse, watch this video.