Of National Renown

Donna Torrisi walks through the halls of her family practice clinic, sees a patient she’s known for years, and gives her a hug. A young girl comes running up; Torrisi greets her just as warmly as she did the little girl’s mom when the little girl’s mom was a patient, too.

“I’m now taking care of the children of people who I took care of as children,’’ Torrisi says. “A mother was in here the other day and told her 7-year-old daughter: ‘Donna took care of me when I was 14.’ This is ever-changing, and growing.”

This is the Family Practice and Counseling Network (FPCN), and the person compassionately caring for generations of families is Donna Torrisi, a nationally renowned figure in the field of nurse practitioners.

RHD's Donna Torrisi honored with Loretta C. Ford Lifetime Achievement Award

Donna Torrisi, director of RHD’s Family Practice and Counseling Network, has been honored with the 2017 Loretta C. Ford Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Nurse Practitioner Symposium. The award recognizes the accomplishments of an individual who has demonstrated longevity, integrity, professional achievement and advocacy in advanced practice nursing on a national level.

FPCN was founded in 1992 by Resources for Human Development as a network of nurse-managed health centers that offers primary care for all ages, and serves public housing residents, the poor and the uninsured. Under Torrisi’s guidance, FPCN has become one of the largest nurse-managed health centers in the country, handling more than 85,000 patient visits a year. It offers primary care for all ages, including family planning, prenatal care, mental and behavioral health care, and it’s opening another dental clinic.

Torrisi wrote the book on nurse-managed health centers – literally. She is the co-author (with Tine Hansen-Turton) of “Nurse-Managed Health Centers: Getting Them Started and Keeping Them Going.”

USA Today on RHD’s Family Practice & Counseling Network: “Innovative health programs counter primary care shortage”

“From a personal standpoint, she’s my primary care provider – and she’s the best anybody could have,” Hansen-Turton says. “From a policy perspective, she’s a pioneer. She was instrumental in getting the state laws changed for nurse-managed centers. We actually took on Pennsylvania to change the law and get nurse practitioners prescribing authority and to get recognized as primary care practitioners.’’

Hansen-Turton is the Executive Director of the National Nursing Centers Consortium, of which Torrisi was a founding member and first chairperson. The NCCC was established to helping nurse-managed centers of all sizes work together in a policy environment that was, Hansen-Turton says, “not too supportive to us.”

“She really is a maverick,’’ Hansen-Turton says. “Donna is not afraid of stepping up. And she brings credibility to the policy argument because she is a clinician. She’s practicing what she preaches.”

Torrisi’s efforts have not gone unnoticed.

The Family Practice and Counseling Network won the “Models That Work” award from the Health Resources and Service Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the SmithKline Beecham Community Impact Award. It’s a model for nurse-managed health centers, in large part because of Torrisi. She’s received the Villanova University Leadership in Nursing Award, the University of Pennsylvania Lillian Brunner Sholstis Award for Excellence in Nursing Practice, the Pennsylvania Nurses Association Leadership Award for Innovative Practice, and the National Alliance for Resident Services in Affordable and Assisted Housing Practitioner of the Year Award.

Susan Sherman, president and CEO of the Independence Foundation, a private philanthropy that has supported Family Practice since 1995, calls the center Torrisi has helped build “absolutely a model for primary care and behavioral health and dental health.”

“She’s incredible. We believe in what she’s doing. She does terrific work,” Sherman says. “Donna is a role model to all nurse practitioners, because of her compassion and her practice and her excellence and her leadership and her larger vision of the way things should be for people.”

Torrisi was working at an HMO in Philadelphia when in 1991 she helped write a grant proposal for RHD to open a health center for residents of public housing.

It was RHD’s first foray into primary care, seeing a desperate need in the community for better health care. In putting together their proposal, RHD sought out Torrisi’s expertise in the field for guidance.

“I remember thinking: I would love to see a nurse-practitioner practice,’’ Torrisi says. “When they won the grant, my heart sank. This was something I helped create. But I liked what I was doing. I was torn. But after much thought, I told them I’d like to be considered for the director.

“I can’t believe it’s been all these years. It was pretty serendipitous.”

Torrisi was a leading figure in helping change Pennsylvania laws to redefine “primary care provider” to include nurse practitioners.

A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has completed advanced education in diagnosis and treatment. Nurse practitioners provide the same care as physicians, and are often able to provide more individualized care, with greater focus on disease prevention and patient education.

Nurse-managed centers have a collaborating physician on call, but 100 percent of primary care is dispensed by nurse practitioners.

It’s a model that works. Patients at nurse-managed health centers are hospitalized 30 percent less, according to a National Nurse Center Consortium report, and use the emergency room 15 percent less than those of other providers.

“Our approach is to care for the body, mind and spirit,’’ Torrisi says. “We care for the person, as opposed to treating the disease.”

That’s the philosophy RHD wanted to embrace nearly 20 years ago, in starting a primary care clinic. Torrisi turned that idea into not only a reality but also a nationally recognized health care center for people in need.