People experiencing homelessness (PEH) have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 as well as higher rates of substance use disorders and serious mental health challenges, which makes treating COVID-19 infections especially difficult. Anxious about the health and safety of their patients, not knowing much about the disease, and racing against the clock, Massachusetts healthcare providers created several innovative models to care for PEH during the global pandemic. Their dedication and collaborative spirit created safe spaces, slowed the spread, and saved lives.
For example, Boston Medical Center responded by establishing a COVID Recuperation Unit – a respite facility for PEH and infected with COVID-19. Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program used a parking lot to erect isolation and quarantine tents with a total of 36 beds (16 isolation, 20 quarantine) for their patients. The commonwealth established isolation and recovery sites in hotels to house those infected with COVID-19 who didn’t need hospitalization but had nowhere else to go.
To highlight these programs, RIZE Massachusetts Foundation hosted a panel discussion with some of these public health heroes, moderated by Dr. Sarah Wakeman of the Substance Use Disorders Initiative at Massachusetts General Hospital. The panel included Dr. Miriam Komaromy of the Grayken Center at Boston Medical Center, Dr. Denise De Las Nueces of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program’s McInnis House, and Dr. Traci Green of The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.