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Homeless Health

Dr. Dave Deci examines a patient at a medical clinic at Grace Episcopal Church in 2011 as part of an effort to provide healthcare to the homeless.

A group including a UW Health doctor plans to launch the Madison Street Medicine Initiative this fall to help people who are homeless get medical care.

Madison Area Care of the Homeless, also known as MACH OneHealth, hopes to start the project by September, said Dr. Ann Catlett, a palliative care specialist at UW Hospital and a leader of the effort.

The group seeks volunteer doctors and other health professionals to make weekly rounds to shelters, campsites and streets, and provide basic care to homeless people, Catlett said. Eventually, the providers will accompany homeless patients to clinic visits and help them navigate the health care system.

“Our vision is that everybody has access to the health care that they need,” Catlett said.

UnityPoint Health-Meriter started a similar program in 2009, called Helping Educate and Link the Homeless, or HEALTH. Providers visited shelters and meal programs, and saw patients at a Quonset hut outside of the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry on Fish Hatchery Road.

The Affordable Care Act’s expansion of health insurance in 2014 caused Meriter to leave the hut and shift to helping the homeless sign up for coverage and get to clinics, said Matt Julian, a social worker who does outreach through the program.

“I’m a friendly face in the community who tries to get them into the clinic,” Julian said.

MEDiC, a program involving students at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, has clinics for the homeless and other underserved populations at set times and places.

Catlett said providers with the Madison Street Medicine Initiative will treat wounds and simple infections, but a main goal of the weekly visits will be establishing trust with homeless patients. That should make the patients more comfortable going to clinics or the hospital when needed, she said.

“Whether it’s the clinic, the hospital, the emergency room or back out on the street, we would like to be a link between all those places,” she said.

The initiative, supported by $100,000 from the Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment at UW-Madison, is an extension of a foot care clinic MACH OneHealth started in April 2016. It has been held monthly Downtown at First United Methodist Church, with the next one on July 15.

Catlett also hopes to open a house where the homeless and other isolated people who are dying could receive end-of-life care.

“We all want to be really comfortable, and to be in a safe place, and to have love around us” when near death, she said.

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David Wahlberg is the health and medicine reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.