There are a number of ways a patient can become connected with Christ House. Some patients are referred from shelters or local hospitals, some have family or friends who call asking about available beds, and others come to us through patient outreach. “Outreach for us is trying to connect with homeless persons wherever they are, in any way we can. In an outreach van, on the street, in the park. It’s important to be where the people are,” says Co-Founder and Medical Director Dr. Janelle Goetcheus.
Patient outreach is crucial because many people experiencing homelessness are hesitant to see a health care provider or to stay in a shelter, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Some have had negative experiences with health care providers in the past or have often just gone to the emergency room when they had an acute need. There has been a history of medical experimentation on the Black community as well, and this is another reason for distrust.” Additionally, due to barriers such as the lack of a phone or transportation, scheduling an appointment with a doctor can be challenging for someone who is unhoused. For all of these reasons, people experiencing homelessness often have not established a relationship with a health care provider whom they can trust. This is why reaching out to individuals to see if they could benefit from the services at Christ House can make all the difference.
While outreach looks different right now due to the pandemic, Dr. Goetcheus is still committed to connecting those in need with our care. “Right now it’s limited – I’m going to a drop-in center downtown in the Unity Health Care Van. Outside of a church downtown there’s a drop-in center where people are given boxed lunches. We have the van parked there for people to get on and receive health care. We find folks who have been out of care and persons having had strokes because of untreated hypertension. One recent gentleman who came on the van was only forty years old and had already had a stroke, heart attack, and suffered with heart failure. His medications had been stolen so he had been without medications for over a week. There were two persons recently with multiple sclerosis trying to manage on the street, and persons with uncontrolled diabetes and kidney failure. They might have HIV and are out of medication. Many have mental illnesses and need to be reconnected to case management and psychiatry.” The partnerships Christ House has with providers, shelters, and hospitals across the city create reciprocal relationships. When a patient comes to Christ House, many unnecessary emergency visits and hospitalizations are saved – a major cost savings for the city. Simultaneously, Christ House is providing the patient with the comprehensive and compassionate health care they need to recover.
Some examples of outreach settings are community kitchens, church programs, shelters, an individual tent in a park, or an encampment. While the cold of winter presents the most health hazards for people experiencing homelessness, the warmer weather can also aggravate people’s health conditions. “There are folks who struggle with asthma and other significant lung problems,” Dr. Goetcheus says of the challenges presented by warmer weather as she prepares for the months ahead.
As the city has begun to open up again, Christ House’s Clinical Services Assistant Daniel McInerney has been accompanying Dr. Goetcheus to assist Dr. Geotcheus and the patients. Daniel believes it is important for healthcare workers to cut through any barriers their patients might be facing and “meet people where they are in the community.” Working with Dr. Goetcheus, he shares:
“Patients consistently leave their appointments…looking more relaxed and hopeful…[they] still face a lot of challenges, but they seem to leave their interactions knowing where to go next to get the help they need. Dr. Goetcheus typically begins conversations by introducing herself and asking patients how she can help. Throughout interactions she listens very attentively and offers compassion and empathy. I think those qualities make most people feel safe and heard.”
Dr. Geotcheus has been leading Christ House’s outreach efforts since 1985. She recently helped connect Dominick, who was formerly staying in a local shelter and experiencing severe hip pain, to Christ House. Dr. Goetcheus encouraged him to come to Christ House so that our staff could evaluate his hip and connect him with proper care. In addition to his need for a hip replacement, our clinical staff found that he had high blood pressure and high cholesterol. “I remember she asked me a lot of questions. What can I help you with, what are your needs,” says Dominick of his first meeting with Dr. Goetcheus, “She always seems concerned about getting you healthy. She listens to you, and she hears you.” Since Dominick first arrived at Christ House in October, our nursing staff has provided him with the proper medication, our case managers worked to obtain his birth certificate and ID (something Dominick had tried to access for years), and our kitchen staff provided him with three nutritious meals each day. Dominick says that if it weren’t for Dr. Goetcheus and Christ House,
“I don’t know where…or even if…I would be. I got my hope back up.”
As Christ House continues to navigate the challenges of the pandemic we remain deeply grateful for our staff and community partners for continuously connecting people in need with compassionate and comprehensive health care. Patient outreach is a crucial aspect of our work, and a tool that helps patients like Dominick find healing and hope.