Over 11,000 homeless individuals are cared for by Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program each year. We are committed to ensuring that every one of these individuals has access to comprehensive health care, from preventative dental care to cancer treatment. Our clinicians, case managers, and behavioral health professionals work in more than 45 locations to deliver the highest quality health care to some of our community’s most vulnerable—and most resilient—citizens. BHCHP provides care without regard to race, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability, veteran status, military service, national origin, immigration status, genetic information or marital status.
IMPORTANT COVID-19 MESSAGE
People experiencing homelessness are highly vulnerable to the coronavirus and its complications because they often live in crowded shelters, lack regular access to restrooms for handwashing and have multiple underlying health issues. Early in the pandemic, BHCHP, in close collaboration with our shelter and hospital partners, the City, and the Commonwealth, took swift and comprehensive action to protect Boston’s unsheltered community from infection and isolate and treat those who became ill.
We pressed pause on many of our regular programs and shifted into disaster mode, which included:
- Setting up and operating the half of Boston Hope dedicated to treating homeless patients. Boston Hope was the field hospital located at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. BHCHP was in charge of 500 beds for COVID-19 positive unsheltered patients. We partnered with Mass General Brigham, the city and the state.
- Testing patients for COVID-19 at shelters and other sites across the city. Testing is ongoing in order to identify infection clusters early; as of September, we have tested more than 1,700 homeless or formerly homeless individuals and carried out over 3,400 tests. In addition, we have been tracking over 4,000 patients, some of whom were tested elsewhere.
- Transforming a floor of our 24/7 Barbara McInnis House respite program into a COVID-19 unit, reducing the density at area hospitals.
- Equipping and operating a 16-bed medical tent to stem the spread of the virus and care for people who have no place to self- isolate while awaiting test results. The tent hospital is now closed, thanks to our and our partners’ success in controlling the spread of infection.
- Operating a 24/7 phone hotline for shelter partners seeking advice on anything COVID-19 related.
- Serving as advisors to other organizations on infection control, coronavirus testing and treatment, and building a COVID-19 system of care.
Generous donors and governmental grants enabled our program to end the year in the black, despite the immense financial pressures. The future is uncertain, but we continue to be grateful to you, our supporters, who allow us to do this lifesaving work each and every day.
We are continually adapting our COVID-19 emergency plan as these unprecedented circumstances continue to evolve. BHCHP is proud and eager to bring our expertise to confront this public health crisis. We are grateful to our staff, whose courageous and skillful commitment to this effort is unwavering. We are grateful to you, our supporters, who allow us to do this lifesaving work each and every day. Thank you.
Dr. O'Connell’s collection of stories and essays, written during thirty years of caring for homeless persons in Boston, gently illuminates the humanity and raw courage of those who struggle to survive and find meaning and hope while living on the streets.