Celebrating Senior Champions
Community Champion – Operation Safety Net, James Withers, MD
Operation Safety Net®, Pittsburgh Mercy’s award-winning, innovative medical and social service outreach program to people who are experiencing chronic homelessness, was founded in 1992 by internal medicine physician Dr. Jim Withers.
As part of Pittsburgh Mercy and Trinity Health, serving in the tradition of the Sisters of Mercy, Operation Safety Net delivers integrated healthcare, case management, housing follow up, and other vital health and human services to individuals living on the streets of Pittsburgh. To date, Operation Safety Net has reached approximately 10,000 individuals with more than 68,000 visits and helped more than 1,200 individuals who were once homeless to find homes of their own. Dr. Withers, whose interest in service-oriented medicine grew in the course of medical missions to Central America and India, continues to serve as the organization’s medical director.
Most of Operation Safety Net’s work force are volunteers, but a dedicated office/case management staff support all of the field work. Services are available year-round, 24 hours a day. The work of Operation Safety Net has evolved to include medical student education in the streets, housing , preventive health services, hospital consults, severe weather shelter and response, and extensive public education.
Dr. Withers and Operation Safety Net have been recognized internationally with numerous awards and honors for their work. Dr. Withers was named one of the 2015 Top 10 CNN Heroes. Other recognitions have come from the American College of Physicians, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, the Catholic Health Association and the United Nations Health Education Center.
As an innovative model of care, Operation Safety Net is being replicated or studied in cities throughout the world. In 2005, Dr. Withers and Operation Safety Net established the International Street Medicine Symposium to foster international collaboration and share best practices in the care of people experiencing homelessness. In 2008, Dr. Withers created the Street Medicine Institute to help other communities establish street medicine programs, improve existing practice, and create student learning opportunities in street medicine. Operation Safety Net currently has partners in cities in North, South, and Central America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.