Taking health care to the streets - Albuquerque Journal

Taking health care to the streets

Dr. Sam Tri, right, with Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless, talks to a client at Los Altos Park. Tri is joined by two medical specialists who help him. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)
A harm reduction specialist and Dr. Sam Tri make their way through a hole in a fence after seeing a client near a freeway. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless was built to respond to a public health crisis in the first place, but that doesn’t mean the navigation of the coronavirus pandemic has been easy.

In the months since the outbreak began, the organization has had to completely and immediately retool to try to prevent homeless people in Albuquerque from losing access to care or being exposed to the virus, the organization’s chief advancement officer, Anita Cordova, said.

Around half of the staff moved to working remotely. Telehealth medicine was offered for the first time, and more employees were deployed on the streets to continue providing medical care – all while operating with reduced revenue, Cordova said.

Despite these changes, Cordova said, the nonprofit was still able to work quickly to prevent a widespread outbreak – an effort that so far has been successful.

In March, the organization worked to help those with preexisting conditions, those exposed to the virus and those most likely to contract the virus get motel vouchers so they could isolate themselves, Cordova said.

Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless also actively sought out clients who needed care, Cordova said.

“They are the least likely to seek care, and therefore we have to find them and be aggressive in that street outreach that we do,” she said.

With a dip in the number of visitors to its clinic at 1217 First NW, the organization has moved much of its typical clinical care out of the building and onto the streets of Albuquerque.

“It’s been really inspiring and important to mobilize our care outside of our four walls,” Cordova said. “So we’re holding onto that, because that’s working.”

Employees facilitate telehealth screenings by bringing technology to encampments that allows clients to speak to clinical providers over the phone.

“Our teams are going out regularly to find people we know if we have some concerns that they might be having symptoms and that they need to be tested or just seen by a clinical provider,” Cordova said.

That’s in addition to the increase in regular outreach efforts normally conducted by AHCH, she said.

“We do anticipate maintaining as much as necessary and possibly a heavy street medicine presence and outreach,” Cordova said. “We anticipate making sure that we have a heavier presence in our shelter or our quarantine and isolation sites.”

Many of the new efforts have been costly.

Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless has temporarily suspended in-kind donations directly to the organization, but Cordova asks those wanting to donate supplies to place orders online that can then be delivered directly to the main clinic.

Cordova said cash donations and purchases from the organization’s Amazon wish list are other ways to support Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless.

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