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 tour Second Avenue Commons, a year-round, low-barrier shelter and engagement center, Bethlehem Haven’s medical respite, and discussed how health care has improved for unhoused individuals covered by Medicaid. This visit included spending time with health care providers and their unhoused patients during street medicine rounds. DHS staff and legislators observed first-hand the greater support for care provided to unhoused people since the Shapiro Administration took action to allow street medicine providers to be reimbursed through Medicaid for care given outside of a traditional clinical setting.
Before the Administration’s announcement, health care providers could only be reimbursed for services delivered in a health care facility – like a doctor’s office – even if those same services were delivered in a shelter or outside.
“Spending time with street medicine providers was a great opportunity to witness on-the-ground improvements for our most vulnerable Pennsylvanians, from wound care to counseling and essential preventative health services that are now more accessible because of state and federal changes to Medicaid that recognize the value of this practice,” said Secretary Arkoosh. “People experiencing homelessness can have complex needs and face many barriers to health care, and by having compassionate health care providers available to them where they are is vital. This work puts more people on a path to good health and improved quality of life.”
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.
"This is Mr. Rogers' neighborhood; we take care of each other," said Rep. Frankel, Majority Chairman of the House Health Committee. "The practice of street medicine is changing how we provide care to the most vulnerable among us. This collaboration will pave the way for a more compassionate and equitable healthcare system in our Commonwealth, and I am proud to have played a part in it."
“Pittsburgh Mercy is grateful to the Shapiro Administration, Sec. Arkoosh, Rep. Frankel, and Rep. Abney for the important investments they are making in innovative health care delivery models that proactively address the needs of people who are experiencing homelessness,” stated Dr. Jack Todd Wahrenberger, chief medical officer of Pittsburgh Mercy. “Their engagement with persons we serve while accompanying our experienced street medicine providers on rounds to homeless encampments, visiting our year-round low-barrier emergency shelter and engagement center at Second Avenue Commons, and our medical respite at Bethlehem Haven speaks to the value and dignity of meeting people where they are at whichever point they present in our continuum of care. We hope today’s visit helps to inform public health policy and expand access to innovative health care delivery models that address the social determinants of health and lead to improved health outcomes for all Pennsylvanians, including the most vulnerable.”
Pittsburgh Mercy, which manages Operation Safety Net®, an award-winning medical and social service outreach program for people who are experiencing homelessness in Allegheny County, is one of the largest community health and social service nonprofit providers and employers in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh Mercy serves more than 18,000 people annually in 60+ locations and is the only Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic and also the largest 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.
Investments in street medicine provide life-saving health care while also building trust within one of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable populations. In July 2023, Pennsylvania announced a change to Medicaid that now allows certain enrolled medical providers to meet with unhoused patients covered through Medicaid and provide care outside of a clinical setting – a practice known as street medicine. The change became effective in October 2023. 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. 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.
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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