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Health care provider 'meets people where they are'

Almost 30 years ago, Health Care for the Homeless was founded in Baltimore to help people "falling through the cracks" of the health care system; now the organization has created a program to ensure that people don't fall through the cracks of its own system.

"We needed to make sure we were getting beyond these four walls," said the organization's CEO Kevin Lindamood, as he sat in the organization's clinic at 421 Fallsway. "To serve those that are so vulnerable they're not able to make it here."

The new program is a mobile clinic that provides health care to homeless people at five locations: the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Housing Resource Center, My Sister's Place, Sarah's Hope at Hannah More, Safe Haven and Safe House of Hope.

Working out of a custom-made, 35-foot-long van equipped with two exam rooms and a waiting room, employees set up at the different shelters — potentially adding up to 600 patients. Health Care for the Homeless headquarters helps about 7,000 people each year.

Lloyd Freeman, 43, visited the mobile clinic recently when it was parked in Reisterstown at the family shelter Sarah's Hope at Hannah More. He brought his 20-month-old daughter, Alannah, to get her a checkup.

As a resident of Sarah's Hope, the location farthest from the main clinic the van visits, Freeman had been to the van when it visited in the past month. The mobile clinic usually stops at Sarah's Hope for one day a week.

"It's really nice," Freeman said. "It's really up to date ... Stuff like this will help a lot of people in the community."

The clinic can help patients with a variety of medical problems, said John Lane, the program coordinator who drives the van and helps set it up. Five employees work on the van once it gets to its location, including Lane, as well as a certified medical assistant, an insurance enroller, a nurse practitioner and a case manager, who goes into each shelter and does outreach work.

The van and its staff are funded primarily by a $858,000 grant from the Bureau of Primary Health Care for the startup year. After the first year, Health Care for the Homeless will get $650,000 annually, said the organization's Chief Strategy Officer Keiren Havens. The organization also did some fundraising, and received support from Mercy Medical Center's Order of Malta, which gave $50,000, and an anonymous private donor who gave $100,000, Havens said.

Employees help patients enroll for insurance if they don't already have it, draw blood, give immunizations and write prescriptions.

There are only a few things the mobile clinic can't do on site, such as provide mental health, dental and addiction care. For those needs, workers will refer patients to the clinic's headquarters, often giving them bus tokens or a cab voucher to get there.

"We bridge the gap of health care they need," Lane said.

The goal of Health Care for the Homeless is to "meet people where they are," said Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman, the organization's chief medical officer.

It did just that for Terace Banks, 36, of Owings Mills, who happened along while the van was at Sarah's Hope.

Banks, an unemployed construction worker, has an interest in old buildings and was looking at one nearby when he saw the van and knocked on the door.

It was his second visit to the mobile clinic. His first was for a checkup, and he returned for a follow-up appointment and blood work.

Banks is considering using the van and its staff as his primary care physician because there aren't a lot of health resources in the area, Lane said.

"It's awesome to have a resource like this," said Banks, who lost his job a few weeks ago. He said he'd recommend the mobile clinic to others and has no complaints, though he was intimidated on his first visit until the "staff opened up" to him.

"[It's important] for us to treat them like human beings ... treat them like family," Lane said.

The program helps about 40 people a week, when it stops at different locations on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. It will soon run Tuesday through Friday, Lane said.

"Homelessness has only gotten worse in recent years," Lindamood said, adding, "Homelessness is not permanent, and what we find through our work is when people get access to the support they need ... people move on to lives where they're not homeless any longer."

This support needed is not just health care, but also other services Health Care for the Homeless and other organizations provide, Havens said.

"It's a very small piece in the larger scheme of Health Care for the Homeless' mission to surround folks who need it with support they need to get out of homelessness," Havens said. "It's one piece of a much bigger pie ... there's something very powerful about bringing it all together."

Jeanae Trent, 41, visits the mobile clinic while she is staying at Sarah's Hope. The nurse practitioner helps her manage her degenerative osteoarthritis, and she doesn't have to take a bus or walk far to get health care.

"It just helps us," she said.

dmking@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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