COVINGTON, Ky. — Pamela Grant’s health insurance plan consists of one man working out of a single room at the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky. It’s better by far than what she had last year, she said Tuesday night. Last year she had nothing at all.
If not for the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky’s resident nurse-practitioner, Brian Lawson, she might not have known she had developed walking pneumonia until it had become far more serious.
“I’d have just thought, ‘Hey, I got a cold,’” she said. “‘I’m down with the flu.’ And I’ve had went on. I’d have laid in my tent and thought nothing of it.”
Lawson and the one-room office out of which he works may be the only medical safety net dozens of homeless Northern Kentuckians like Grant can afford to access in 2019. The shelter is able to provide the service, which includes referrals, immunizations and the ability to fill certain prescriptions, thanks to a partnership with St. Elizabeth Business Health and an anonymous donor’s gift of $50,000.
Lawson is at the shelter from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. five nights per week and offers immediate treatment. His care is expected to reduce overall medical costs by reducing the need for homeless people to seek treatment at an emergency room, according to a news release announcing the program.
“Although the circumstances surrounding this group of individuals are different from patients in other practice settings, the guests are human beings and deserve a basic level of health care as any other individual,” Lawson said.
The health of people experiencing homelessness is a critical concern for the people who work to help them. Lawson sometimes sees as many as 43 patients in a single night, shelter executive director Kim Webb said.
A study published in 2018 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that homeless people living on the street in Boston had a death rate three times higher than homeless people living in shelters and 10 times higher than the general population in Massachusetts. Researchers conducted the study over 10 years and spoke to 445 homeless adults who did not stay in shelters.
The Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky also now works with HealthPoint to help homeless people there connect with the health care services they often are eligible to receive but don’t know how to access, Webb told WCPO.
"The benefits have been tremendous," Webb said.
Something as simple as being able to give someone Tylenol for a fever means that guest can sleep better, she said, leading to a better night for everyone in the shelter. Grant, who has used the shelter's various non-medical services for years, said being treated with dignity and having her health concerns taken seriously was an enormous help on its own.
"To be able to come here and see somebody without somebody judging you and everything like that, it means the world," she said.
Webb said she hopes to identify grants and donors to help them fund a nurse practitioner at the shelter next winter, too. She estimates that having the service on-site all winter would cost about $50,000.
The Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky is located on Scott Street in Covington, Kentucky, and gets 95 percent of its funding from private sources. The nonprofit organization served 589 adults experiencing homelessness last winter.
Grant said she hopes more will come to receive care like the kind that saved her over the winter.
"If you’re out there and you need help, come," she said. "It’s here. The people are great. They treat you with respect. Come, just come. Don’t worry about your pride. They don’t put you down. They don’t nothing.
More information about the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky is available online.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To reach Lucy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.