This article is part of Jmore’s “Innovation in Health Care” special section.
“Medicine is not synonymous with health.” That’s the credo and mantra of Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos.
Dr. G — as he’s warmly called by those who know him well — is a pulmonary and critical care specialist at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in East Baltimore. In addition, he is co-founder and co-director of Medicine for the Greater Good, a Bayview program established in 2013 with the goal of training health care professionals to actively engage with communities for better health outcomes.
A medical version of the Peace Corps, MGG has trained more than 100 medical residents and students to engage in projects that have impacted over 7,000 city residents. The program’s medical residents and volunteers work closely with schools, churches and community centers to promote good health practices and wellness. Volunteers come from such schools as Johns Hopkins University, the Peabody Institute and the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing.
Dr. G, 35, was born and raised in Baltimore’s tight-knit Greek community. After graduating from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, he came to Bayview for his medical residency.
During his first year there, he says he saw that his medical school training would only go so far in making a difference in his hometown. “All that intelligence from pathology, to genetics, to physiology, to pharmacokinetics, didn’t do anything. I can’t intellectually help my patients when there are other non-biological factors attenuating my care,” he says.
For instance, Dr. G recalls prescribing an inhaler to someone with asthma, knowing it would not solve the problem of secondhand smoke in the patient’s apartment building.
Dr. Colleen Christmas, a co-founder of MGG, was the head of the residency program when Dr. G arrived at Bayview. Dr. G says he was inspired by the way she and Dr. Ariel Green, another co-founder of MGG, were working behind the scenes to design curriculum for residents on how socio-economic barriers in Baltimore affected the health outcomes of many patients.
In his second year of residency, Dr. G agreed to stay at Bayview and serve as assistant chief of service, but with one caveat — he wanted MGG to be a cornerstone of the residency program he would help lead.
It all started with home visits. “These weren’t just patients. These were people I grew up with,” says Dr. G. “I think that’s where my personal narrative really fired me up. These were my coaches, my nannies, my next-door neighbors — Highlandtown, Dundalk, Essex, Rosedale — my mishpachah [family].”
“We go out to faith-based organizations, housing-units, schools, sit down with them, and have them tell us what their community health-based needs are, and say, Alright, let’s tackle this together, ‘”— Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, Medicine for the Greater Good
Today, every Bayview medical resident is required to engage with a Baltimore community through MGG. “All of our residents get trained in public speaking and grassroots skills, how to sit down at a meeting in a community and empower them, allocate resources, come up with a good plan,” Dr. G says. “We go out to faith-based organizations, housing units, schools, sit down with them, and have them tell us what their community health-based needs are, and say, “Alright, let’s tackle this together.
“We make it clear to the communities we work with, ‘You tell us what your priorities are.’”
At Maree G. Farring Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore’s Brooklyn community, the issue of lice infestation came to the forefront. Dr. G heard the story of a student’s mother who, while working two jobs to support her family, had to wait a week to take off a day from her morning job to get lice medication for her child. That morning, the bus ran late and the mother missed her chance to get to the pharmacy.
A week went by until her child was finally treated and returned to school. “Lice situations aren’t getting kids into the emergency room, but they’re keeping kids out of school,” Dr. G says. “For one school, over a thousand days of absenteeism due to lice was documented. So we began to work with them.”
Olivia Veira, a seventh and eighth grade science teacher at Marie G. Farring, was in her first year of teaching when she met Dr. G.
“Dr. G had already been doing amazing work in our school and in Baltimore City schools in general,” she recalls. Veira saw how MGG successfully tackled the school’s lice problem, including donating kits for identification and treatment.
MGG is also involved with such initiatives as the Lay Health Educators Program, in which about 20 laypeople train for six to 12 weeks with Hopkins physicians to gain the ability to raise awareness, spark discussions and allocate resources for health needs specific to their communities.
“They become liaisons between the community and our hospital,” Dr. G says.
At The Soul Center at Pikesville’s Beth El Congregation, Dr. G recently helped organize Caregiver Cafe, a monthly program for community members caring for ailing loved ones. He sends a Bayview resident to each meeting who, in conjunction with Beth El’s in-house social worker Sarah Shapiro, leads a presentation and discussion on an issue related to caregiving.
For Dr. G, change begins on the grassroots level. “We may not impact those very attractive public health outcomes, but it starts to build a relationship that is novel, that is not seen before,” he says. “And if these medical community partnerships can begin to thrive, I’m certain that the hospital of the 21st century is going to be one that looks just like this.”
For information, visit medicineforthegreatergood.com.
Liz McMahon is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.