Clinic aims to treat homeless with dignity - Catholic Courier
Marli Bernstine takes a blood sample from Kenneth Hartwigh March 17 at Rochester’s Health Reach clinic, which is part of Unity Health System’s Health Care for the Homeless program. Marli Bernstine takes a blood sample from Kenneth Hartwigh March 17 at Rochester’s Health Reach clinic, which is part of Unity Health System’s Health Care for the Homeless program.

Clinic aims to treat homeless with dignity

ROCHESTER — The idea to treat all that ails the homeless is evident amid the exam rooms at Unity Health System’s Health Reach clinic, located at 819 W. Main St.

The clinic’s focus on improving both physical and mental health is incorporated into sayings written in script on the cream-colored walls of the clinic’s two exam rooms.

"The only journey is a journey within," one saying observes.

The goal, according to a staff member, is to uplift patients as they seek medical care.

"We wanted to keep things positive," said Jennifer Thompson, program manager for the Health Reach clinic, which offers health-care services to the homeless in the metropolitan Rochester area.

Created with a $300,000 grant for capital improvements from federal economic-stimulus funds, the Health Reach clinic opened in December 2009. On March 9, 2010, the clinic’s staff celebrated its beginning with an open house and tours.

The clinic is part of the Health Care for the Homeless program, a partnership of Catholic Family Center, Monroe County Department of Health, The Salvation Army, the VA Medical Center and Unity Medical Group. About 24 patients a week are currently using the new clinic, and usage appears to be increasing, according to Unity officials.

Providers with Health Reach work in tandem with Unity Health’s mobile medical unit, which routinely travels to area shelters, including those run by Catholic Family Center, to offer health-care services. The new clinic is able to provide some services that are difficult to offer on the mobile unit. For instance, women in shelters may be referred to the Health Reach location to receive a pap smear.

"We’ve been able to get these pap smears done that we weren’t able to do before, and we have better follow-up care," Thompson said. "They (women in shelters) want to go to a place where they feel legit."

One benefit of the Health Reach clinic is that it helps to provide continuity of care, Thompson said, and it also helps patients address small health problems before they grow into a crisis. Those who are homeless may be focused on priorities other than their health, she noted.

"The homeless are dealing with their basic human needs: food, clothing and shelter, Thompson said.

Another complication of providing medical care to the homeless is that they often have no identification, said Dr. Thomas McElligott, a physician who works at Health Reach and on Unity’s mobile unit. However, Unity’s providers are able to offer care on the spot while a case manager helps the patient reapply for identification.

Electronic medical records make it easier to share information between the mobile unit, the Health Reach clinic and any other care providers, staff said. Care is paid for by insurance, if available, and by grants if the recipient is uninsured.

McElligott said he often sees patients with mental-health issues, diabetes, high blood pressure and those who are dependent on substances. Other services include tuberculosis screening, referrals, dental screenings, nutrition counseling and referrals.

Those who are homeless have come to rely on the Health Care for the Homeless program, he said.

"When they see the truck, they know that health care is there," McElligott said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For details on Unity’s Health Care for the Homeless program, call 585-368-3720.

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