On any first Saturday, the Henrietta Johnson Medical Center (HJMC) in Wilmington, Delaware, is packed with people. They might get a flu shot or blood pressure screening, but, for sure, their pets will get an exam.
Since 2017, the medical center has hosted a monthly One Health Clinic for dogs and cats.
“DHA constantly struggled with how to serve underserved communities that come to the shelter for pet care,” said Dr. Kristin Jankowski, V’94, a board member of the Delaware Humane Association (DHA) and the clinic’s creator. “We also suspected that for every person seeking care, there are probably many others who need it but don’t ask.”
After exploring a few different approaches to meeting this need, Jankowski had the idea for a free clinic run by volunteer veterinarians and students and embedded in a community-based human health clinic.
“We wanted to honor our strong relationships with the veterinary community and other partners,” said Patrick Carroll, DHA’s Executive Director. “The One Health program was the perfect approach! We serve both people and animals, so the program is a great way to live out DHA’s mission of making friends for life.”
From Pitch to Opening in Two Months
Jankowski dove into months of research and planning. Along with fellow DHA board members, she solicited volunteers from the University of Delaware’s undergraduate pre-vet program, Penn Vet’s Shelter Medicine program, and area veterinarians.
The clinic came together quickly. “We pitched it to Henrietta Johnson in August 2017 and held the first clinic in October 2017.”
Community response was powerful. “So many people came out on the first day,” said Jankowski, who is also on staff at Wilmington Animal Hospital. “You could feel how much joy and peace people felt being able to help their animals. We provided more than medical care but also a chance for people to talk, be heard, and ask questions.”
Jankowski and the team have since run 17 clinics, serving an average of 30 clients each day. Pet owners, all of whom live in two of Delaware’s lowest-income zip codes or are current patients of HJMC, rotate through four stations: check-in, clinical exam, pharmacy, and an appointment summary and review of next steps. Leashes, humane collars, and a food bank are also available onsite. All supplies, including medications, are donated or purchased with grant funds.
Penn Vet Shelter Medicine provided consulting services during the development and early execution of the clinic and is now a formal DHA partner. A Shelter Medicine intern attends the clinic, offering consistent veterinary support, and Penn Vet student volunteers staff each of the stations. Patrick Gritt, a graduate of the Penn Vet Animal Care & Control Team of Philadelphia Maddie’s® Shelter Medicine Intern, is the shelter veterinarian at DHA and supports the clinic.
Connected to Human Health Care
While furry friends are the clinic’s primary focus, their human counterparts are just as important.
“People love their animals and often put them first,” said Jankowski. “We see when they’re empowered to care for animal loved ones, a door opens to their own health care.”
From the beginning, Jankowski’s goal for the clinic was to have pet care serve as a gateway to human health care and that veterinarians-in-training experience this interconnection while working hands-on with people and animals.
For every clinic, students read and discuss an article related to human or animal health, or the interconnection between them.
Volunteers from Wilmington University’s nurse practitioner program talk to clinic clients about health insurance and community-based wellness resources. They offer blood pressure screenings, flu shots, and assistance in making appointments at Henrietta Johnson. And Penn Nursing is also in the process of developing a collaboration with DHA and Penn Vet to provide care at the clinic.
Creating a Model Program
To better understand how the clinic is making a difference for people and animals, the Penn Vet Shelter Medicine program supported a student-driven summer research project funded through PetSmart Charities. Meriel Walsh, V’21, the student involved on the research project, is continuing her work as a member of the Rosenthal Penn Vet Shelter Medicine Student Research Fellowship program. She is collecting data on the clinic’s impact on clients, pets, and volunteers.
“My ultimate goal is for DHA One Health Delaware to become a framework for similar projects around the country and open new doors in community health,” Jankowski said. “It’s amazing to see what a group of volunteer students and professionals serving a common goal can achieve, even on a small scale.”