February 13, 2020. Our program featured Bennie Eliason and Seth Campbell from Lehigh Valley Health Network who told us about the medical work they do for homeless people through a program called Street Medicine. Though not generally visible, there are thousands of homeless people in the Valley. They live in tents, under tarps, or under bridges. They do not have access to traditional health care for three main reasons: lack of transportation; lack of insurance and/or money; lack of trust in the medical world.
The Street Medicine program brings the medical care to the people. The team still must work to build trust with their patients. They visit the known encampments and the area shelters and soup kitchens. Detailed electronic records are kept for each patient. Physician Assistant Seth’s backpack is full of basic medications but also includes specialty tools such as a palm- sized EKG device. A tele-psychiatry program has been developed so patients can talk to a specialist electronically without having to wait weeks for a scheduled office appointment.
The medical respite program offers housing and meals during ongoing medical care such as wound healing. Community Health Worker Bennie helps patients navigate the paperwork needed to get any available assistance. Coverage for their patients has risen from 24% in 2015 to closer to 85%. A new program is in the works to incorporate a veterinarian to tend to the patients’ pets. The work of the Street Medicine team fills a void in our healthcare system and results in a reduced rate of readmission for the homeless people at local hospitals.