Pittsburgh, PA - Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh today visited Pittsburgh Mercy, one of the region’s largest social services nonprofit organizations, alongside Representative Dan Frankel to discuss a recent change in Medicaid that allows certain enrolled medical providers to meet with unhoused patients covered through Medicaid and provide care outside a clinical setting – a practice known as street medicine. By allowing providers to bill for services rendered during visits with people experiencing homelessness, DHS aims to increase access to care for Medicaid beneficiaries and improve health outcomes.
“At DHS, we are committed to helping medical providers better serve their communities in any space we can, to put more people on a path to good health,” said Secretary Arkoosh. “People experiencing homelessness can have complex needs and face many barriers to health care, but meeting people where they are can make a difference. By creating a path for Medicaid to cover street medicine, we are making it easier for health care providers to offer the care they need and deserve.”
Street medicine allows physical and behavioral health services providers to address the unique needs and circumstances of people experiencing homelessness by delivering care and services directly to them in their own lived environment. These visits provide a direct intervention with a high potential impact on health and wellbeing that will also divert people from costly visits to frequently overwhelmed emergency rooms. Services include but are not limited to primary care, vaccine administration, wound care, preventive services, counseling, medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder, and diagnostic services, rapid COVID-19 and flu testing, and more.
In the fall of 2022, Bridge Beyond, a local nonprofit advocating for unhoused people, contacted Representative Dan Frankel concerning the need for expanding resources for street medicine providers and connected him with the Street Medicine Institute. Representative Frankel brought the issue to DHS leadership under the Wolf Administration, which advocated for a change at the federal level. In January, the Shapiro Administration quickly took action on the issue and continued to pursue a solution.
“Bridge Beyond and the Street Medicine Institute have been instrumental in championing these changes to Medicaid, I was proud to bring their advocacy to DHS,” said Representative Frankel. “Their dedication to improving the lives of the most vulnerable among us has not gone unnoticed, and their advocacy has paved the way for a more compassionate and equitable healthcare system in our commonwealth.”
Pittsburgh Mercy manages Operation Safety Net®, a medical and social service outreach program for people who are experiencing homelessness in Allegheny County, and is one of the largest community health and social service nonprofit providers and employers in Southwestern Pennsylvania. They serve more than 18,000 people annually in 60+ locations and are the only Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic and Integrated Community Wellness Center in Western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh Mercy is a member of Trinity Health, serving in the tradition of the Sisters of Mercy. Their mission is to be a compassionate and transforming, healing presence within communities.
“On behalf of Pittsburgh Mercy and our founders, the Sisters of Mercy – particularly during this Mercy Week – we thank the Shapiro administration, Secretary Arkoosh, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, Representative Frankel, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and others who have advocated for and taken this important first step to legitimize street medicine as the innovative and important model of health care that it is,” stated Tony Beltran, president and CEO of Pittsburgh Mercy. “As a social service nonprofit, a member of Trinity Health, and a legacy program of the Sisters of Mercy, we know the importance of going to the people, meeting them where they are, and addressing unmet needs. Medicaid’s decision to fund street medicine validates the work that Dr. Jim Withers, our street outreach teams, Dr. Pat Perri, medical director of the Center for Inclusion Health at Allegheny Health Network and a board member of the Street Medicine Institute, and others have been doing for decades. It is an important first step to honor the dignity of people who are unhoused and in need of the most basic of human services – the health care and wrap-around services they so richly deserve.”
“Street medicine is the delivery of health care directly to persons who live on the streets of our nation. This innovative health care delivery model has been evolving for decades in Pittsburgh, across the U.S., and across the globe. However, in most U.S. communities, street medicine has not been a reimbursable service,” stated Jim Withers, MD, medical director of Homeless Services at Pittsburgh Mercy, founder and medical director of Pittsburgh Mercy’s Operation Safety Net, and founder of the Street Medicine Institute, an international organization of homeless service providers. “The official change in Medicaid reimbursement which takes effect in October will allow Pittsburgh Mercy’s Operation Safety Net and other street medicine providers to sustain and improve the services that are so desperately needed on the streets. This is a landmark event for which street medicine practitioners have advocated for decades. We are grateful to the governmental leaders who have made this possible. Health care is an essential part of solving the crisis of homelessness. All people deserve care that is dignified, effective, of high-quality, and sustainable.”
Investments in street medicine provide life-saving health care while also building trust within one of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable populations. People experiencing homelessness in the United States die, on average, three decades earlier than their peers with housing, most commonly due to preventable and treatable chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, and others. This change applies to Medicaid-enrolled physicians, certified nurse midwives, certified registered nurse practitioners, physician assistants, psychologists, and mobile mental health treatment providers, who provide services in the Medicaid fee-for-service or managed care delivery systems.
Additional resources for individuals experiencing homelessness available through DHS can be found through the Homeless Assistance Program, and more information about other assistance programs administered by DHS is available at dhs.pa.gov.
To learn more about Pittsburgh Mercy and Pittsburgh Mercy’s Operation Safety Net, please visit www.pittsburghmercy.org.
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