When Mike first came to the Barbara McInnis House, where staff at the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program provide medical respite care for homeless people, he was virtually “undocumented.”
Mike was born in the United States, so he is an American citizen. But because he couldn’t tell his name, his Social Security Number, or what he was doing before he ended up sleeping in a public park near Roxbury, he couldn’t apply for Medicare or Medicaid which he needed to get into a nursing home.
“He was the sweetest, the most soft-spoken person,” Sam Russo, a case manager at McInnis House, said during a “Start Up with Non-Profits” panel that’s organized by BHCHP and the Cambridge Innovation Center on Oct. 2. “But he wouldn’t give you any more information, or he couldn’t, we really don’t know.”
For example, Russo said Mike’s left hand lost its function because of a decade-old wound that wasn’t treated properly, but he would never tell the staff that his hand was hurting. Mike, who appeared to have suffered from a traumatic brain injury, also wanted to go back to the streets on several occasions because he felt bad about taking up one of McInnis House’s 104 beds.
“We told him, ‘Don’t you worry about that, you need this,’” Russo said.
Mike stayed at the McInnis House for six months, far exceeding the average homeless person’s two-to-three-week stay. The staff at McInnis later discovered that Mike got care at the Boston Medical Center before his brain injury, and they helped Mike obtain documents with information about his medical history.
Mike later left McInnis House and got into a nursing home, where he still lives today.
Stories like Mike’s represent an innovative approach to care for people who are underprivileged: An approach that focuses more on the outreach effort and on meeting people where they are.
“Rather than telling the patients what the plan of care is, we ask them what they are thinking about for discharge, what they are thinking about for their next step,” Russo said. “Give them opportunity to talk about it.”
Since BHCHP was founded in 1985, the program has served 11,000 homeless people each year through different services.
When the Supportive Place for Observation and Treatment (SPOT) program, which provides a safe place and medical monitoring to opioid users, opened a year ago, Kate Orlin, a nurse at BHCHP’s, said she thought only a couple people would show up.
To the contrary, within the first hours that the program opened, the place was packed.
“People learned that there is free coffee they can have, and sandwiches, and we are full,” Orlin said at the panel, laughing.
Since SPOT opened, Orlin said she often sees familiar faces of people who come by, sometimes just for coffee, other times for consulting about what kind of care they can expect.
Lexi Schneider, another panelist and a member of BHCHP’s HIV/AIDS team, said she and her 2 colleagues visit 25 different sites in the city every month, making contacts with people who are at “incredibly high risk” of getting HIV.
The team also provides a multidisciplinary treatment plan for people living with the virus, which includes making sure every single patient has a nurse, a case manager, and sometimes a therapist.
“I wouldn’t say that our patients lack the sense of responsibility, but sometimes they need that push,” Schneider said. “A lot of our patients were beaten down by the society in a number of ways, some of them were born into a difficult situation … We show our patients that when they are ready, they can always come to us for care.”
Weihua Li recently graduated from Boston University with a dual degree in journalism and political science. Before joining MedTech Boston as an editorial intern, she edited the school’s independent newspaper, The Daily Free Press, and interned at WAMU and WBUR. When she is not reporting, you can find her at Boston’s newest bubble tea shop, looking for the best boba in town.
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