Marilyn “Penny” Benz


Overcoming adversity and “Paying it Forward”

Growing up in Northeast Philadelphia, Penny Benz was raised with a strong work ethic and sense of self-reliance.  Throughout her working career she had always been employed in spite of lay-offs and mergers around her.  Then the “Great Recession” hit, and she lost her job.  Even with her wide network of industry contacts, Penny was unemployed for three years, and during that three-year period Penny became very ill while taking care of her 94 year-old mother.

When her health insurance ran out in January of 2010, Penny tried to purchase other insurance, but was rejected by two carriers because she was taking medication and was considered to have a pre-existing condition.  Penny was distraught.  She applied for PA Fair Care, a program that went into effect in 2010 which admits people with pre-existing conditions. She was accepted in August with coverage starting in September.

However, Penny had been experiencing trouble swallowing and breathing as well as a sore throat.  She went to her doctor who treated her with medication, but the infections kept returning.  She was unable to sleep or eat properly because she felt like she was choking and couldn’t breathe.  Finally, in July 2010, the pain became too intense, and after going to a Mini Clinic, Penny went to the St. Mary Medical Center Emergency Room.

“It was the best decision I made during this entire ordeal.  My mother had a knee replacement there in 2004 and we were so pleased with the care she received I knew St. Mary was the place to go.”  She explained her circumstances to the registration person who then took the time to explain the Financial Assistance Program at St. Mary.  She qualified for 100% coverage for the hospital visits, though Penny would still be responsible for her doctor visits, and medications.

A CT scan revealed a mass behind her tonsil and the Emergency Room doctor sent her to an ENT specialist resulting in a recommendation for immediate surgery.

Penny never, ever thought she would be in a position to need charity care. She always worked and supported herself while taking care of her mother.  She was humbled and grateful that St. Mary had a program to help those who were in financial trouble.  The program was a life-saver for her and when she recovered, she vowed to give back to the place that was there when she needed help the most.  “I was lucky I had family & friends who helped me financially, and I had St. Mary to help me with my medical care.  Once I finally went back to work, I wanted to make a donation to the St. Mary Emergency Department.  I wanted to help someone else who needs assistance.  I wanted to pay back my friend the money she lent to me but she & her husband suggested I combine it with my donation to St. Mary.  That way we could help more people in our community.  ‘Pay it Forward,’ she said.  That is what I wanted to do and to inspire others to do the same so I made a 1973 Society gift to St. Mary.

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