[Hpn] Portsmouth, NH - Program will provide health care for homeless - Portsmouth Herald - September 27, 2002

H. C. Covington H. C. Covington" <hccjr@bellsouth.net
Sat, 28 Sep 2002 07:43:37 -0500


Program will provide health care for homeless

"Helen" the health mobile unit truck will start with a nurse practitioner,
substance abuse counselor, care coordinator, project coordinator,
and mental health counselor as part of the Health Care for the
Homeless Coalition program.
______________________________________________________
By Sara Newbury - Portsmouth Herald - September 27, 2002

PORTSMOUTH - Some 1,200 homeless people in this area may be
benefiting from a federal grant aimed at keeping them in good health.

A project led by Families First Health and Support Center was one
of 13 projects nationwide to recently receive a federal grant of
$460,000, over two years, to provide health care for homeless people.

The grant will serve Rockingham and Strafford counties, where an
estimated 1,200 people or possibly more are currently homeless,
according to Helen Taft, executive director of Families First.

The program is scheduled to begin by Dec. 1, when two vans with
mobile health care teams will visit shelters, soup kitchens and
campgrounds, along with other sites frequented by homeless people.

Families First, a health and support center that provides care
for low-income and at-risk families, is leading the coalition of
nonprofit agencies in this project, including five shelters, four
hospitals, three community health centers, and many social
service agencies.

"Itís going to enable us to connect people with one of the most
important services in terms of getting them back on their feet
and back to work - or to keep them in school, in the case of a
child," said Chris Sterndale, executive director of Cross Roads
House, an emergency and transitional shelter in Portsmouth.

"Itís much better to do a lot of preventative stuff. We are looking
forward to making it very easy and very cheap for someone to
get a hold of something thatís getting in the way of their success."

Cross Roads, one of many organizations involved in the Health
Care for the Homeless Coalition, houses 100 homeless people each
night. Sterndale said that in the past, homeless people on the
Seacoast have relied on Families First for health care, as many
cannot afford or get to other facilities.

"Emergency rooms get buried with things that arenít necessarily
emergencies - itís just that (patients) have no other health
care," said Sterndale. "This program will be bringing the care to
the people that probably need it the most."

Said Taft, "We really are planning to make it a full-service
medical van, which will include everything from immunizations for
children to substance abuse counseling. Itís not just primary
care. We are not trying to rule out anything unless itís
impossible on the van."

Taft said they hope to provide referrals for people who need long
term care and also help people access medications and other supplies.

"Weíll learn whatís feasible and whatís not, as we go along," she
said. "The idea is to provide a full gamut of medical care."

According to Sterndale, there is a real need for the program on
the Seacoast, though it is difficult to determine exactly how
many people will use the services, and even to determine the
magnitude of homelessness in the area.

"Itís constantly here, but the people that are experiencing it
are changing - as people lose and find permanent housing," he
said. "Itís a tough number to count. They are a tough bunch to
find. And it depends what you call homeless. I donít think there
are 1,200 living outside, but there are certainly 1,200 that need
permanent housing."

The Health Care for the Homeless Coalition is modeled after a
similar program in Manchester called The Mobile Community Health
Team Project. The vans will carry a nurse practitioner, substance
abuse counselor, care coordinator, project coordinator, and
mental health counselor.

And each van will be hooked up to the Electronic Medical Record,
a system of medical files shared by Families First, Avis Goodwin
Community Health Center, and Lamprey Health Care - the three
community health care facilities in the coalition. If a homeless
person visits the van for health care, their records can be
accessed, with their permission, by any of these facilities.

"One thing thatís very hard for homeless people to get is
consistent care," said Taft. "They say that homeless children are
the most over-immunized children in the world because they donít
have any records."

And the care provided from the coalition vans - which are provided
by AIDS Response-Seacoast and Exeter Hospital - will be free of
charge unless the patient has insurance.

The federal grant money will go toward setting up the program,
initially, and then to funding the staff.

Money will also be used to develop a new dental center on the
Families First campus that will welcome homeless people.
Taft said the coalition program has the potential to remain
in the Seacoast area for a while.

"Normally, if you are awarded this grant - if there continues to
be federal funding - then you can usually get it," she said. "But
hopefully it wonít be needed. It is a program that you want to go
out of existence because then there wouldnít be homeless. But it
is a program that we can expect to implement and build upon."

The grant is from the Health Resources and Services Administration
and is the first federal grant that Families First has ever received.

"One of the big things with providing health care for the homeless
is the importance of really respecting and understanding their position,"
Taft said. "Really trying to engage the hard-to-engage homeless to
get health care. These programs really need to get out there and
build that relationship."


Writer Sara Newbury snewbury@seacoastonline.com
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source page:
http://www.seacoastonline.com/news/09272002/news/26508.htm

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