Putting Health at the Center

UMD Contributes to New Wellness Hub in Underserved Prince George’s County
by Sala Levin ’10 | Illustration by Gabriela Hernandez

On a Friday morning, pairs of UMD students scatter along a stretch of road in Temple Hills, Md., lined with barbershops, nail salons and laundromats. Their mission: Talk to community members about what health services they feel are lacking in the area—gaps in service that could be filled by the Catholic Charities-Susan D. Mona Center.

The health center opened in the fall through a partnership between Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, Doctors Community Hospital and the School of Public Health’s Maryland Center for Health Equity. The Mona Center is a welcome addition to an area where a 2016 Prince George’s County Health Department report found a lack of health care providers contributed to residents’ poor health outcomes.

“It’s an example of our reach as a land-grant institution beyond the walls of our College Park campus and into a part of the county where we’ve had no presence,” says Stephen B. Thomas, professor and director of the Center for Health Equity.

Donated to Catholic Charities by the Mona family, the 12,000-square-foot building that houses the health center—formerly a Joe Theismann’s restaurant—had fallen into dilapidation. Now, Catholic Charities runs a dental clinic and Doctors Community Hospital primary care practitioners see patients on the first floor. Pro bono attorneys affiliated with Catholic Charities offer services for immigration issues and civil law matters.

Upstairs, the Center for Health Equity and other partners from across the UMD campus will coordinate a health and wellness center, with exercise space, mental health counseling and a teaching kitchen where visitors will learn how to cook healthy food using produce grown on a community garden (planted on a former overflow parking lot).

The facility, Thomas says, is “specifically designed to help people who are suffering from preventable chronic disease to get back on track in healthy lifestyles in terms of eating, physical activity, mental health and managing stress.”

Public health students have played a role in the center’s design. A Fearless Ideas course, called Redesigning Health Care: Developing a Clinic to Meet Community Needs and co-taught by Thomas and Susan Passmore, assistant director of the Center for Health Equity, has been offered for three semesters and gives students the opportunity to learn how to build a clinic that meets the needs of residents.

“Before taking the class, I didn’t necessarily look at what the community needs versus what I can do,” says Jazmin Aldridge ’17, M.H.A ’19. “My idea might not be what’s best for the community as a whole. Now I try to always understand the needs of the person I’m trying to address the problem for.”


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