FIGHT and Mazzoni provide services amid larger shutdowns

Mazzoni Center Interim Leadership team: Dr. Nancy Brisbon, CMO, Alecia Manley, COO, Racquel Assaye, CFO

As the City of Philadelphia continues to impose restrictions to limit the spread of the new coronavirus, including Monday’s Stay at Home Order, public health facilities remain on the list of essential businesses that are allowed to remain open during this time. 

Philadelphia FIGHT is a network of healthcare and mental health facilities, as well as educational and faith initiatives providing “culturally competent primary care and state of the art HIV primary care to low-income members of the community.” FIGHT continues to keep its primary care centers open during this time, including the John Bell Health Center and the Lax Center, with pediatrics remaining operational. As of last week, its dental center staff is managing patients via phone only. The organization is not currently seeing new patients, nor will they accept walk-in appointments — all patients must call in advance. FIGHT is not acting as a testing site for the new coronavirus, according to the organization’s website.  

Mazzoni Center, Philly’s health center dedicated to the physical and mental well-being of LGBTQ+ communities, this week reopened its location at 1348 Bainbridge Street to patients who are in critical need. The organization’s Washington West location remains closed. As of this week, Mazzoni is open from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and will remain open in the same capacity with at least the same schedule but will most likely augment its hours, Nancy Brisbon told PGN. Brisbon serves as Mazzoni’s Chief Medical Officer and is a member of the Interim Leadership Team.   

During the March 24 Virtual Update on COVID-19 Coronavirus Response from the Mayor’s Office of Communications, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley reported 77 newly found cases of the novel coronavirus in the city as of 1 p.m. on Monday, yielding a total of 252 known cases since the beginning of the pandemic. 

While FIGHT’s Y-HEP and Broad Street Ministry are physically closed at this time, their patients will be diverted to the Bell and Lax centers.

Patients who experience symptoms of the new coronavirus, such as cough, fever or chest tightness, will be seen at the Lax Center, FIGHT Chief Executive Officer Jane Shull told PGN. The John Bell Center is open for patients who show no such symptoms. However, any patient regardless of their symptoms can call the center, and they will be connected to a group of staffers who answer the phone, who will, in turn, transfer them to the appropriate medical professional they need either to schedule an appointment or talk to a doctor.  

“Basically what you have to do is call first,” Shull said. “You can call, you can talk to your doctor or another healthcare provider, you can communicate with us — we will give you advice. “We’re not closed, we’re open.”

In her written statement published on FIGHT’s website, Shull detailed the organization’s history and commitment to its patients, describing how the organization was created out of need during the AIDS epidemic.

“Now, faced with a different epidemic, where the risks are not entirely known, and where the government’s response has fallen far short of the need, we are faced with a clear choice,” Shull said in her statement. “We know that marginalized communities like those we serve tend to do the worst in any epidemic. We know that this epidemic spreads more quickly in overcrowded situations like homeless shelters or congregate housing that many of our guests and participants utilize on a daily basis.”

Similar to FIGHT, Mazzoni Center also took the lead during the HIV epidemic. 

“A lot has changed since the 1980s — in the world around us and within Mazzoni Center,” Brisbon said in a March 20 press release. “The one thing that has not changed is our commitment to our community’s health and well-being. It is this commitment that informs and underpins our decisions as we respond to the coronavirus outbreak.”

Currently, Mazzoni staff has been available to its patients via its patient portal and telephone since the start of the new coronavirus outbreak, Brisbon said. “In the health center, we’re doing that thing that everybody’s doing which is limiting in-person care to manage social distancing and exposure,” she said. “The folks who are coming in are for labs, acute visits, shots, treatment – that kind of thing.” 

Mazzoni staff is delivering the rest of the organization’s available medical and behavioral care via phone and telemedicine. The center’s staff began administering behavioral healthcare via telemedicine on Tuesday and will continue in that capacity for the time being. Mazzoni is not doing testing of any kind right now, and its educational services have been postponed at this time.  

Brisbon told PGN that she hopes Mazzoni will be able to provide testing for the new coronavirus in the future. “We are experiencing that same issue that many other places are experiencing of not having the protective gear and supplies to be able to do the testing,” she said. Center staff members have been referring patients who they deem appropriate to the existing new coronavirus testing sites in Philadelphia, including Penn and Jefferson, Brisbon added. 

The team at Mazzoni strives to help lessen the burden on larger medical facilities that provide care to those with more severe symptoms, Brisbon said. 

“Our job is to really triage and monitor folks and help them be OK with staying at home and monitoring their symptoms, and reinforcing the accurate information about the pandemic so that they don’t go to testing sites when it’s not appropriate,” she said. “I want folks to know that we’re still here. Use the portal — we’re all here ready to respond through the portal, and we’re working on more ways to engage and be responsive.”

Existing FIGHT patients can call the organization’s main number at 215-985-4448, the Jonathan Lax Center at 215-790-1788 and the John Bell Health Center: 267-725-0252. Mazzoni Center can be reached at its main number at 215-563-0652, and its medical number at 215-563-0658.

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