A midwife who trains midwives in the West African nation of Sierra Leone and an emergency department physician who helped start free medical clinics for veterans and civilians are recipients of the annual Kaiser Permanente David Lawrence Community Service awards.
Both Joanie Seacrist, 58, a certified nurse midwife and nurse practitioner, and Michael Luszczak, 62, work at the Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center.
Dr. Luszczak and Seacrist will each receive $10,000 to donate to the organization of their choice. The award, started in 2003, is named for former Kaiser Permanente CEO and Chairman David Lawrence and is given to employees who volunteer to improve community health in the United States and abroad.
The daughter of missionaries, Seacrist lived in Sierra Leone as a child and returned to volunteer shortly after finishing nursing school in 2004.
“I felt a really strong calling to return to Sierra Leone and use my nursing skills,” Seacrist said.
After several volunteer trips, she moved there in 2008 for 2 years and became a nursing supervisor at a hospital that treats women with birth-related injuries. She then started an organization called Hawa’s Hope that now trains women in Sierra Leone to be midwives.
“We’ve trained 175 midwifes at the 3 midwife schools there,” Seacrist said. “We give them skills to prevent the very specific reasons women die during childbirth. Sierra Leone has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world.”
Seacrist said her parents instilled in her a strong motivation to help others.
“I grew up with a public service mentality,” she said.
When Dr. Luszczak retired from the U.S. Army in 2006 after 20 years as an emergency physician — including a year of combat medicine in Mosul, Iraq — he joined Kaiser Permanente and began casting about for volunteer opportunities.
“I started thinking about those promises I made during my medical school interviews and applications to serve my community,” Dr. Luszczak said. “I had said I want to make sure everyone gets good care, and I want to help in underserved communities and give those who don’t have access to care an opportunity.”
Those promises led him to become a founding board member and vice president of the Placer Veterans Stand Down, where he has volunteered for 9 years. The Veterans Stand Down in Placerville, California, is a yearly 3-day event where veterans and their families — about one-third of whom are homeless — can come to get free medical services and be connected to Veterans Administration benefits. That organization led him to volunteer and serve on the board of California Care Force, which offers free 2-day medical, dental, and optical clinics for those in need all over California.
“It’s commonplace for students and younger people to want to do stuff like this, but the reality is that family, kids, career, they all get in the way,” Dr. Luszczak said. “Very few of us have the opportunity to give back later. So, I’m fortunate I can make good on my commitment to serve, and it is what I am called to do.”