For individuals experiencing homelessness, COVID-19 has been especially difficult. The lack of access to care and testing, untreated chronic conditions, like diabetes and hypertension, and a lower rate of vaccination have contributed to the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on transient populations.
In Nashville, Tennessee, UnitedHealthcare teamed up with Neighborhood Health to help address gaps in medical care for some of the area’s most vulnerable citizens. Thanks to an $85,000 UnitedHealthcare donation, Neighborhood Health purchased supplies and a Jeep to transport homeless patients to labs, appointments and pharmacies, and to make emergency supply deliveries. The Jeep is even equipped with plexiglass dividers and a removable roof for better airflow when transporting patients who may be contagious. Also, critically important to this population, the funding helped purchase rapid COVID-19 test kits to determine results almost immediately to help reduce the spread in these communities.
“When we see some of our citizens struggling, like Nashville’s homeless, we do what we can to serve and support them,” said Keith Payet, CEO, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Tennessee and Kentucky. “We recognize access to better health in high-risk and high-need populations is a profound challenge we all need to address.”
Neighborhood Health provides comprehensive medical care to families in the Nashville area, regardless of their ability to pay. The organization has grown into a network of 11 centers serving more than 31,000 individuals each year and providing over 90,000 visits annually. Two Neighborhood Health clinics are specifically focused on homeless services, and their street medicine team visits homeless encampments to identify those who need medical assistance.
With COVID-19 vaccines now available, Neighborhood Health is focusing its vaccination efforts on underserved populations – residents of public housing, individuals experiencing homelessness, individuals of immigrant origin and current patients.
“Our vaccination efforts will take all of us in Nashville and Middle Tennessee – all pitching in to ensure we get shots in the arms of those who are most vulnerable,” said Brian Haile, CEO, Neighborhood Health. “It’s hard and it’s extremely labor-intensive, but it’s what Tennessee is all about.”
Access to stable housing, healthy food, transportation, social interaction and safety net services all play a huge role in ensuring good health. Far too many people may not have the means to take care of their health or may face barriers that prevent them from doing so.
“Our team is working to help build healthier communities across Tennessee by breaking down the social and economic barriers many individuals and families face on a daily basis,” Keith said. “By working together, with organizations like Neighborhood Health, and creating an interconnected system of clinical and social services, we believe we can produce even better health outcomes for local residents than what could be accomplished working separately.”