State and city officials celebrate innovative healthcare model
WORCESTER – Responding to an unprecedented increase of homeless individuals in need of both emergency shelter and access to quality healthcare, a new medical services program has been created inside South Middlesex Opportunity Council’s (SMOC) Emergency Housing Triage Center in collaboration with Family Health Center of Worcester (FHCW) and the City of Worcester.
Today’s ribbon cutting ceremony at 25 Queen St. featured remarks by MA Secretary of Health and Human Services Kate Walsh, State Senator Robyn Kennedy, City Manager Eric Batista, City Health and Human Services Commissioner Dr. Mattie Castiel, and City Councilor Sarai Rivera.
“Access to medical care is critical for many people experiencing homelessness, yet people often face barriers to care,” said Secretary Walsh. “To best support the specific needs of our community members experiencing homelessness, we have to bring the care to them – exactly what SMOC is doing at Queen Street. By integrating health care services into its emergency shelter, SMOC is meeting folks where they are and making access to health care easier than ever before.”
SMOC President and CEO Susan Gentili explained that FHCW primary care providers and support teams will be at the shelter each week at regular hours, intentionally starting at 3 p.m. so there is time for patients to access a pharmacy and medical labs following their medical visits. “Over the last 18 months, the Queen Street triage center has operated above capacity, averaging 80 individuals a night, regardless of the season. We are seeing people with more complex medical and behavioral health challenges than previously, many over the age of 60, and more young adults, ages 18-24,” according to Gentili. “While our long-term goal is to get each person stabilized and into permanent, safe and affordable housing, the need to access high quality healthcare during their shelter stay is more essential than ever. Bringing healthcare services into the shelter will break down barriers and allow guests to address their immediate healthcare needs in a space that is convenient, familiar and safe.”
The conversation to create an on-site medical services program at SMOC’s triage center was initiated by the City of Worcester’s Health and Human Services Commissioner, Dr. Mattie Castiel, who brought together SMOC and FHCW to determine how best to serve the healthcare needs of this changing demographic of individuals residing at the shelter.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic, Family Health Center of Worcester played a major role in testing and vaccinating hundreds of guests at SMOC’s shelter, so this successful collaboration has been in place for a while,” Dr. Castiel said. “There wasn’t a need to reinvent the wheel. We just had to be innovative and figure out how we provide high quality healthcare on a regularly scheduled basis to individuals where they are. SMOC found the necessary space, and with the help of Fred Taylor and local Carpenters Union 336, along with a generous of donation of material from construction contractors Glickman Kovago construction, we are now ready to offer shelter guests the ability to address their healthcare needs while working to resolve their housing situation.”
The immediate goal is for FHCW’s physicians and medical support team to establish a consistent presence at the shelter, with assistance from SMOC staff members who will create the weekly schedule, identify guests who will be seen, and ensure that those guests are present at their designated appointments.
“Our clinical teams must maximize health assessments during each visit so that referrals and follow ups can occur with minimal barriers for these individuals,” according to FHCW President and CEO Louis Brady. “For example, if a person has to wait until the next day for a prescription, even with reminders and support from the SMOC team, they may not follow through due to the multiple barriers that people facing homelessness often experience. We are committed to building a high level of trust and meaningful relationships among guests, SMOC, and our clinical team to overcome these barriers. Regular interaction with this medical services program will ideally create a bond between each guest and their care team, so that as individuals transition to permanent housing we can maintain the momentum of their care journey with Family Health Center of Worcester.”
The medical services program at the emergency triage center, 25 Queen St., is scheduled to begin in August, 2023.
About South Middlesex Opportunity Council
SMOC is a Community Action Agency with a mission to improve equity, wellness, and quality of life for diverse individuals and families by providing advocacy, education, and a wide range of services; building a community of support and inclusion and creating awareness to combat poverty through partnerships and coalitions with other organizations. To achieve its mission, SMOC administers over 50 programs addressing Social Determinants of Health that contribute to an individual’s overall wellbeing. These services include behavioral healthcare and substance use services, early education and after-school programming, adult education, employment and skills training, crisis intervention, financial assistance, and a housing continuum that spans emergency shelters, supportive housing, and permanent affordable housing.
About Family Health Center of Worcester
Family Health Center of Worcester is a distinguished Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) serving the residents of Worcester and the surrounding areas. With a mission to improve the health and well-being of all residents, especially culturally diverse populations, the center provides affordable, integrated, and high-quality primary healthcare and social services, regardless of patients’ ability to pay. Family Health Center of Worcester operates from its main site at 26 Queen Street in Worcester, MA, and extends its care through seven school health centers in Worcester, MA. Family Health Center of Worcester operates Worcester Health Care for the Homeless at 199 Chandler Street in Worcester. Additionally, the center administers the Women Infant Children (WIC) nutrition program at four sites in the Greater Worcester area.