NORRISTOWN – Providing quality medical care for homeless people in Montgomery County has long been a priority for Mark Boorse.
As Director of Program Development for Access Services, he helped launch a “Street Medicine” program in January 2021 in Pottstown, where a group of advocates and medical professionals work to meet people where they are found.
“We knew when we started Street Outreach we were going to see people in poor health; we were going to see sick people,” Boorse said. ” We are not doctors. We have to partner with someone if we’re going to solve this problem, and we felt compelled to not only be a close service, but to connect [the homeless] to health care.
Now the program is expanding. Members of the Street Medicine Team have recently started raising awareness in Norristown.
“We started in Pottstown because we had a partnership that allowed us to do that,” Boorse said. “Our goal throughout this time has been to bring street medicine to the county.”
Last week, 84 men, 55 women and 22 families were homeless in Norristown, according to Boorse, adding that 46 men, 25 women and 22 families were living outside in Pottstown.
“The two places that make the most sense to start are Pottstown and Norristown, because that’s a large concentration of homeless people, and there are health care providers that are important in those spaces,” Boorse said.
How it works?
The Pottstown Street Medicine Initiative involves a physician, along with representatives from Access Services, Tower Health, and Community Health and Dental to visit outreach centers and homeless encampments. shelter located in the borough. They often ask if anyone needs or wants to see a doctor for an illness.
“Homeless people have the same kinds of chronic issues as everyone else, but often they’re not diagnosed early because they don’t go to the doctor regularly and they tend not to be treated as well,” Boorse said. .
Boorse cited heart disease, respiratory problems, pneumonia and wound infection as common ailments.
Expanding to Norristown, Street Medicine is partnering with nonprofit HopeWorx. Located at 1210 Stanbridge St., #600, Norristown, the agency provides services, community advocacy and a safe space for those in need.
“One of the things that’s also really cool about HopeWorx is that some people here have experienced homelessness themselves, so they’re really clear,” Boorse said. “They are integrated into the experience. They are also connected to space.
While still in its infancy, Boorse said he hoped HopeWorx would work as a home base, with the goal of replicating the Street Medicine model in Norristown. Boorse has had a relationship with the association for years, but “informal conversations” related to the partnership have only taken place in the past two months.
“I think it will be very similar. We see it as a great place for people to know,” he said. “We will establish stable days here, and people will know that doctors come to HopeWorx on certain days.”
The recent closure of the Coordinated Homeless Outreach Center, previously located on the grounds of Norristown State Hospital, has shed light on the rise in homelessness in Montgomery County. The 50-bed facility was the largest and only shelter for single adults in the county. Boorse identified access to medical care as a critical need with the rise in local homelessness.
“There is a significant concentration of people living outdoors in the Norristown area, and we know they are just as sick, and we also know that whatever health care they have, they are kind of cobbled together, and a lot of people don’t have it,” he said.
November 1 marked the first day in Norristown. Team members took the opportunity to introduce themselves to potential patients.
Dr Erin Tuffy, an emergency physician at Pottstown Hospital Tower Health, saw four people for ‘wellness checks’. Then the team moved to a tent by the river where four people were staying.
The outing ended with a stop at a local pharmacy in Norristown to formulate another partnership in the community-centered approach to mission.
Build the team
What comes next is building a team for the long haul. It starts with a hospital and doctors.
“We’re talking about how to develop (the) partnerships here in Norristown that we developed in Pottstown,” Boorse said. “We know who some of the players are, and we’re trying to start those conversations about how can you partner with us?”
Boorse called the first day a success. There is still work to be done and they can’t wait to get started.
“I’m super excited,” he said. “I tell people that one of the blessings, or privileges, of my role with the agency is helping start new things and being there on day one is always exciting for me.”
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