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News: Health for the Homeless

UC opens after-hours clinic in Over-the-Rhine

By Tony Cook · May 26th, 2004 · News
A new clinic operated by the University of Cincinnati at the City Gospel Mission provides free nursing care to the homeless.
Dana Kimmon

A new clinic operated by the University of Cincinnati at the City Gospel Mission provides free nursing care to the homeless.

A new program at the City Gospel Mission might ease the stress on hospital emergency rooms and provide college students with hands-on education, all while helping people struggling with homelessness in Over-the-Rhine.

The City Gospel Mission is a popular destination among people who are homeless. Next to Washington Park and only several blocks from the Drop Inn Center shelter house, the mission provides meals, clothing, drug treatment and lodging for the homeless. Now it's the site of another service -- free after-hours health care.

The University of Cincinnati and University Hospital are using the City Gospel Mission as the site for a new health clinic staffed by registered nurses from University Hospital and nursing students from UC. They'll provide minor care, simple screenings, health education and referrals to relevant health service providers.

The clinic grew from a 2001 study by graduate students in UC's community health nursing program.

The study found that many people who are homeless travel to hospital emergency rooms in the evening for health care needs that could be met without admission to a hospital.

Studies from other parts of the country have found that two-thirds of emergency room visits by the homeless are for non-emergency needs, and that those visits occur most often between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m., according to Christine Savage, director of the clinic and UC's community health nursing program.

Cynthia Richardson and Vanessa Warner, who were staying at the Drop Inn Center earlier this week, say they regularly use clinics in the area, but usually have to go to the hospital if they have a health concern in the evening.

"Usually, if I get sick or something, I go to the hospital," says Warner, who has asthma. "But since they're opening up a clinic, I will be using it."

Open 6-8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, the clinic will make minor care such as wound care and post-surgical follow-up available to people in Over-the-Rhine who lack transportation and whose only other option might be the emergency room.

UC health administrators and nurses threw a grand opening party May 13, attracting about 200 people from the neighborhood. UC students will distribute fliers and post signs throughout the neighborhood to spread the word about the clinic, which began treating patients May 25.

"It is important that we not only provide high quality care in our hospitals and clinics near campus, but that we also bring care to those who need it most," says Andrea Lindell, dean of UC's College of Nursing.

During a pilot run in 2001, between 25 and 40 people visited the clinic nightly.

Other clinics, such as the Health Resource Center and Crossroads Clinic, serve Over-the-Rhine, but they close around 5 p.m., according to Savage. Hospital emergency rooms then become the only option for people who are homeless, she says.

"There was a large burden of them showing up on the doorstep at hospitals," says Ed Perrine, chief executive officer of the City Gospel Mission. "And with the price of emergency room visits these days, that just wasn't a very economic way to do things."

"It is our hope that having the clinic opened during the dinner hours will help reduce their use of the ER," Savage says.

In addition to providing services, Perrine says he hopes the clinic will make the health care system more approachable for people who are homeless.

"It helps the homeless build relationships with the nurses and the health care system," he says.

Nurses will refer clients to services available during regular hours for long-term primary care, according to Savage.

While the clinic will not be staffed by doctors and will only include equipment for basic health screenings such as blood pressure and sugar level measurements, Perrine says those services can go a long way in serving the homeless.

"There also might be issues where they are sicker than they think they are and so nurses can screen that," he says.

Although participants and project directors felt the 2001 pilot clinic was a success, funding dried up. But this year Savage secured about $117,000 from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and the Butler Foundation, which should keep the after-hours clinic open for two years.

Savage says she expects the number of clients who use the clinic to increase as people in the neighborhood become more familiar with it. The clinic is likely to expand its operation to three days a week by the end of the summer, she says. ©



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