Freedom House medical service makes comeback to help Pittsburgh community

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the problem of unequal health care in under-served areas of the country. Now a hospital in Pittsburgh is reviving a decades-old emergency medical service to help communities of color. CBS News' Skyler Henry reports.

Video Transcript

DESERAY OWENS: Oh, that is beautiful. Oh my god.

- Yes.

SKYLER HENRY: This brand new ambulance gets the seal of approval from Desiree Owens. The Pittsburgh native is part of the city's newest generation of emergency responders.

DESERAY OWENS: My roots has actually always been in it. I've seen my grandma when I was younger coming up caring for everyone.

- I'm looking for deformities, contusions, abrasions--

SKYLER HENRY: Owens is in training for Freedom House 2.0, a reboot of a 1960s program that became the blueprint for modern day ambulatory services. The idea then was to train mostly unemployed Black men to provide emergency medical service.

- And the real question was, could they really take men who for the most part were deemed unemployable in our community and train them in emergency medical care? The answer was absolutely they could.

SKYLER HENRY: I'm sure you know of just kind of the context as to what was going on in this neighborhood, why a project like that needed to be established in the first place.

- We understand that in that period, there were many people that even died unnecessarily because there was no real way to meet their need in emergencies.

SKYLER HENRY: A recent study looking at workforce diversity found just 5% of emergency medical technicians identify as Black, a number of the program aims to increase.

- Breathing, [? rate ?] quality.

SKYLER HENRY: With support from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, 21 students will be trained to handle both medical and social emergencies, many overcoming their own challenges at home.

- The reasons why they come to the classroom is to change that fabric that, you know, shapes their life outside into something different.

SKYLER HENRY: Organizers hope the program will inspire a new blueprint in cities across the country, [SIREN] providing jobs and creating health care workers who better reflect the communities they serve. Skyler Henry, CBS News Pittsburgh.