Homeless get health help at Day Center

Third-year resident Dr. Micheal Lindow from St Mary’s Hospital residency program Skypes with Dr. Paul Simmons at St Mary’s.Dr Lindow was working at the Day Center at Third Street and Pitkin Avenue in Grand Junction.

Laundry machines, storage lockers and showers have been a staple of Catholic Outreach’s Day Center for years.

Now, regular access to health care at the center is becoming an increasingly popular amenity at 302 Pitkin Ave.

The homeless service center is open from 8 a.m. to noon on weekdays. Mondays begin with a visit from a mental health therapist and a physician from Marillac Clinic. Marillac and Catholic Outreach co-wrote a grant to bring mental and medical health services to the Day Center in 2002. The Day Center gets the benefit of having on-site health services, and the clinic gets the benefit of occasionally signing up Day Center clients for a Marillac card and scheduling appointments with them at the clinic.

On Wednesdays, students from Colorado Northwestern Community College in Craig provide mental health services. Colorado Northwestern Community College psychology students started coming to the center in 2003. Colorado Mesa University will soon begin to send its students to the Day Center to provide mental health care on Wednesdays. The community college in Craig is still deliberating which day it will send students after the change takes place.

On Friday mornings, third-year residency students from St. Mary’s Hospital’s family medicine residency training program provide exams and diagnoses. Sherman Straw, director of St. Mary’s residency program, said he decided last year to join efforts at the Day Center after some of his residents filled in for a Marillac physician who was out sick.

Straw said the experience lets the program’s eight third-year physician residents learn more about diagnosing patients with exams instead of heavy-duty equipment that is not available at the Day Center. They also get to test out tele-medicine technology. The residents use Skype to video chat online with residency faculty to inform their diagnoses. Straw said using Skype is helpful training for the students, who may have to Skype with specialists in larger towns if they get a job in a rural area.

“It does sharpen their skills. They usually feel very useful because the people down there don’t always have other sources of care,” Straw said.

Day Center Director Patricia Boom said the additional services provided by the students, residents and Marillac’s health professionals have “made a huge difference.” She said some homeless people who do not have easy access to transportation and little money for doctor office visits let medical conditions get worse before the Day Center offered health services. That meant conditions that could have been cured early in a doctor’s office, like a spider bite, had time to turn into something more dangerous, resulting in an expensive trip to the hospital or emergency room.

“We don’t have to call the ambulance anymore and there are not nearly as many in the emergency room as there used to be because they can get stop-gap care here before it gets worse,” Boom said.

Transportation, monetary and insurance issues, plus existing health conditions that can contribute to or result in homelessness, mean homeless people spend an average of four days longer per hospital stay than non-homeless people, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine. Those longer stays cost an estimated $2,414 each, according to the report.

Saving people from those expensive visits is good for patients, doctors and the community, Catholic Outreach spokeswoman Barbara Mahoney said. Some 100 people seek help through the health services that come to the Day Center each month, she said.

A population of people used to taking care of themselves may at times be wary of health care professionals, Marillac Licensed Social Worker Rod Pyland said. But Pyland, who offers mental health assessments at the Day Center, said he sees four to five people every time he is at the center and builds their trust by offering them treatments they didn’t know about before.

“They’re survivors. They usually have been on the streets a fairly long time. If you can help them find a way to treat something that they couldn’t figure out on their own, they’re likely to come back,” he said.


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