Helping the homeless is not for the faint of heart; there are numerous roadblocks: fiscal, physical, psychological and bureaucratic. There is no quick fix, but it must be a priority for our community.
That is why in March 2016 WellSpace Health launched the Street Nurse program, funded by Sutter Health. A registered nurse provides medical care, offers counseling and crisis support, is a liaison to other services, and is confidante, driver and much more to the homeless near Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento. Her pioneering work is designed to break down mistrust.
We believe in this pilot effort so much that we just expanded the program from one nurse to two. It may be the most visible part of our shared commitment to reduce homelessness, but we have a broader initiative to address the issue, working with Sacramento Steps Forward.
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WellSpace Health is a primary provider of health care services for the homeless in the Sacramento area, with three centers in downtown and midtown, plus a walk-in clinic at Broadway and Alhambra. They are listening posts for our case managers.
Anyone who works in or visits downtown Sacramento cannot miss the increasing homeless crisis, and the need to address it. According to the most recent count, homelessness in Sacramento County jumped 30 percent in the past two years, to 3,665 people who lack permanent shelter at any given point.
The Street Nurse program is not comprehensive enough to reach such a large population. But it is the ideal strategy to break down barriers and serve as a transitional step to providing regular care. By reaching the homeless on the street corner, performing screening tests, treating injuries and making referrals, we can persuade them to use our health centers. Having a regular medical home where they can receive primary care is key to teaching the homeless to manage their own health.
It’s not just medical treatment. Sutter Health works with WellSpace Health and our other partners to coordinate care and connect homeless patients to housing, behavioral health treatment and other social service programs.
It will never be easy work, but with the Street Nurse program we are building a network of access and support. The homeless need not be hopeless.
Jonathan Porteus is chief executive officer of WellSpace Health and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. James Conforti is president of the valley area for Sutter Health and can be contacted at SHVAAdministration@sutterhealth.org.