FirstEnergy Foundation Invests with Purpose to Help Northeast Pennsylvanians Live Healthier Lives

dental workers

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The sign outside the Mountain Center – a former elementary school turned community center in the Poconos Mountain town of Tobyhanna – welcomes families to “The One Stop That Stops the Runaround.”

The center, located in Met-Ed’s Monroe County service area, houses numerous children’s and family service providers under a single roof. St. Luke’s Family Medicine Clinic, which opened in the spring, is the Mountain Center’s most recent addition. Operated by St. Luke’s Hospital’s Monroe Campus, the clinic provides wellness education and a variety of health services for people of all ages, including comprehensive physical exams, school and sports physicals and treatment of a broad spectrum of conditions.

The FirstEnergy Foundation recently awarded St. Luke’s Monroe Campus a $50,000 grant to support the clinic’s efforts to promote healthy lifestyles through programs like mobile dental van visits, medical screenings and tobacco cessation and disease prevention education. 

The need for the clinic in this rural mountainous region less than two hours from New York City and Philadelphia is striking. St. Luke’s conducted a community health needs assessment and found that there is only one primary care physician for every 2,400 residents in the county, compared to the national average of one physician per 1,000 individuals. Access to oral health is scarce as well, with one dentist per every 2,600 residents, less than half the national average.

Vera Filipovska, a nurse practitioner and long-time local resident who heads the new clinic, does not want to see patients only when they are ill. 

“Our goal is to keep this community well,” she said. “Preventative medicine is the key to good health and preventing patients from developing chronic diseases.” 

That approach to wellness can be a challenge. The hard-working people of Tobyhanna – many of them blue-collar New Yok City transplants – traditionally have sought care only when they feel sick. 

Wellness by the Mouthful 

Dental care in this underserved region is especially overlooked as essential to good health. 

“We need to connect the mouth to the body,” said Filipovska. “We find that the people who live the longest have their own teeth and don’t smoke.”

Half of the FirstEnergy Foundation grant will target mobile dental van visits for dentists and hygienists to provide exams, teeth cleanings, cavity restoration and other basic dental services for adults and children at the center.

Marilyn Santiago of Star Community Health, a St. Luke affiliate, manages the dental vans, which she described as RVs containing separate treatment rooms. 

“Going to the dentist office is a true fear,” Santiago said. “I find that the van setting – a dental office on wheels – can help people overcome that fear, especially with younger kiddos.” 

Promoting Preventative Care

Don Seiple, president of St. Luke’s Monroe Campus, said the clinic will leverage the relationships and trust other Mountain Center providers have already established throughout the community to promote its outreach programs. It can be as simple as partnering with the food bank down the hall to place fliers advertising upcoming dental van visits in food bags.

“The FirstEnergy Foundation’s generous grant will help the clinic and its partners deliver the care, resources and education necessary to promote healthy habits that will improve the health of our community,” Seiple said.       

The St. Luke’s grant is part of more than $3 million recently awarded to nearly 100 organizations under the FirstEnergy Foundation’s “Investing with Purpose” initiative. Investing with Purpose supports nonprofit organizations that advance health and safety, workforce development, educational and social justice initiatives.

The FirstEnergy Foundation is funded solely by FirstEnergy Corp. and provides support to non-profit, tax-exempt health and human services agencies; educational organizations; cultural and arts programs and institutions; and civic groups in areas served by FirstEnergy’s 10 electric operating companies and in areas where the company conducts business. Learn more at


CONTACT: Todd Meyers, 724-838-6650

Last Modified: October 11, 2022