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Freedom House 2.0 (McKeesport, Pa.)
Freedom House 2.0 (McKeesport, Pa.)

Life Changing Is ... Graduation Day

Freedom House 2.0 (McKeesport, Pa.)

“People have better health outcomes when their care team reflects their community.”

Clad in purple caps and gowns, 12 Freedom House 2.0 graduates were celebrated during an April 2024 ceremony at the Community LIFE Center in McKeesport, Pa.

Sponsored by UPMC Health Plan, Freedom House 2.0 is a six-week program that introduces participants to careers in health care. Graduates can apply for jobs as medical assistants, patient care technicians, community health workers, and more.

Many of the Freedom House 2.0 participants come from economically disadvantaged and underserved communities.

Michelle Skinner says she first learned about Freedom House 2.0 on social media. She then reached out for more information, only to learn the class she signed up for was already full.

One month later, she received a call about upcoming classes in Monroeville and McKeesport. Anxious to get started, she opted to join the McKeesport session that began sooner.

“I was like, ‘You know what? I'm going to just take that drive to McKeesport every day,’” she recalls.

It was a life-changing decision for Michelle. It led to a new career as a patient care technician at UPMC Mercy.

“It felt really good,” she says of graduating. “It was amazing.”

Trevor Mathey, program manager, Freedom House 2.0, says the program has placed more than 50% of graduates into positions with UPMC.

“It truly benefits our community as we give individuals upward mobility,” he says. “But it also benefits the community and UPMC as we're able to bring them in and diversify our health care workforce so we can deliver even more quality care and quality medicine to that many more people.”

Carrying on a legacy

Freedom House 2.0 is named after the Freedom House Ambulance Service, which formed in Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood in the 1960s. Comprised of Black men and women, the Freedom House Ambulance Service provided lifesaving EMS care throughout western Pennsylvania's underserved neighborhoods.

Nearly six decades later, Freedom House 2.0 looks to carry on that legacy with new opportunities to diversify the health care workforce.

Emily Lovallo, MD, emergency medicine physician, UPMC Mercy, is Freedom House 2.0’s medical director. She says the goal of the program is not only to provide better care for patients but to also strengthen communities.  

“The data very much supports that people have better health outcomes when their care team reflects their community,” Dr. Lovallo says.

Before Freedom House 2.0 launched in 2021, Dr. Lovallo says the program was envisioned as focusing more on EMT training. However, because many participants were young mothers, working as an EMT while juggling childcare and school schedules posed a challenge.

“So, we kind of went back to the drawing board and said, 'OK, what if we're going to continue to recruit from the same population? What kind of careers in health care are going to match with what's actually feasible for our community?’” Dr. Lovallo says.

That led to the current six-week program model. Participants attend classes Monday through Friday for six hours a day. The curriculum includes an introduction to anatomy and physiology, learning how to treat basic medical emergencies, CPR training, and more.

“It's a big-time commitment,” Trevor says. “Which just makes it that much more impressive that these folks can take all that time out of their lives and away from their regular family responsibilities and dedicate the time and effort it needs.”

Participants in the tuition-free program receive a stipend. They also are provided laptops, transportation assistance, and childcare resources. There is even a food pantry in the classroom for breakfast and lunch.

“We really try to approach every barrier that exists to our students being successful and being able to be in the classroom Monday through Friday,” Dr. Lovallo says.

A family affair

Michelle’s three children were her biggest supporters on graduation day, wearing shirts that said, “My mom did it and she did it for me.”

As the mother of 10- and 7-year-old daughters and a 2-year-old son, Michelle credits the rest of her family for their support. She says they helped take care of her children so she could take care of her Freedom House 2.0 responsibilities.

“If there wasn't school, one of them would pick up the slack so I was still able to go to class,” she says. “They helped me take (the kids) to doctors' appointments and dentists, all that stuff. Having that support system while being in the class took a lot of weight off my shoulders."

Support was evident for every graduate, as each received loud cheers while accepting their diplomas.

However, some individuals were not there just to support their loved ones. They were also following in their footsteps.

“We had a mother who was in a couple of cohorts ago, and her son graduated today,” Trevor says.

The McKeesport class also included a mother and her two daughters graduating together.

“Not only do we try to create a family atmosphere, but we actually have entire families coming through the program now,” Trevor says. “Which I think really speaks to the impact we're having within an entire community.”

The McKeesport graduation marked the conclusion of Freedom House 2.0’s 14th class since 2021. Erie, Pa., celebrated its first graduating class a week later.

The program will continue to expand into regions like Westmoreland County and central Pennsylvania.

“I think we know the model is successful here locally,” Dr. Lovallo says. “So, seeing it being successful in other communities across Pennsylvania is really exciting.”

At UPMC, Life Changing Medicine means diversifying our workforce and improving the health of our communities.

Learn more about Freedom House 2.0 and how to enroll in an upcoming class.

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