A Letter from Dr. Jim O'Connell and CEO Barry Bock on COVID-19 and BHCHP

Dear Friends,

Our passion for excellence in the care of homeless individuals and families was forged 35 years ago in the crucible of the dual epidemics of AIDS and tuberculosis. We were overwhelmed, but so grateful to be invited into a partnership with the shelters and soup kitchens, the hospitals and health centers, the City and the Commonwealth. Exhausting but exhilarating early lessons sustained us through the ensuing cascade of outbreaks over these decades: infestations, Hemophilus influenza, Shigella, hepatitis A, hepatitis C, H1N1 influenza, meningococcus, norovirus, and numerous other communicable and infectious diseases that wreaked untold suffering and death among Boston’s most vulnerable homeless persons.

For these past unsettling weeks, BHCHP’s leadership and staff have feverishly been preparing for the unprecedented threat of SARS-CoV-2, the pandemic coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Our country is paralyzed as we hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Meetings and events are cancelled, schools and public buildings are closing, travel is restricted, and this public health disaster threatens economic collapse. Business as usual has ceased at BHCHP and each staff member is prepared to be flexible as we strive to find creative ways to protect and care for those who will struggle to survive this virus while living in shelters, on the streets, and in newly-acquired housing scattered throughout Boston.

Coping with this pandemic will require difficult choices, uncomfortable changes, and unselfish teams. For example, while we strive to build healing community at our McInnis House respite program and throughout our program, “flattening the curve” of transmission requires social distancing and quarantines. Our model of care emphasizes continuity of care from street and shelter to hospital to medical respite care to supportive housing, but the dire need ahead to cope with those with coronavirus will likely limit us to urgent care and care of the most vulnerable, such as our elderly and medically compromised patients. 

As we write this, no homeless person in Boston has yet to be diagnosed with COVID-19, although few if any have been tested as yet. We fear an explosive transmission of this virus in the homeless community, much as we saw with AIDS and TB 35 years ago. To prepare, we rely on difficult lessons learned with humility over these decades. We are immersed daily with our shelter partners, the hospitals, and our longstanding network of community partners in creating an infrastructure capable of limiting the spread of this virus and providing the best of care to those who become infected.

The litany of idea changes within BHCHP is remarkable, underscoring a dedication and commitment that has made working in this program such a blessing and a joy for all of us. Our dynamic leadership team hosts daily updates on Zoom, clinical teams are embracing new roles and changing schedules, screening measures are expanded each day, McInnis House respite program has transformed to accommodate as many as 30-40 persons with coronavirus infection, and we are working with our shelter partners to screen and find suitable places to send those who may be at risk and should not be in the large shelter settings. We know the shelters are depending on our help and expertise, and we are creating a mobile 24/7 team to respond to any questions or problems. We will engineer our network of clinics throughout the shelters, in Boston Medical Center and Mass General Hospital, as well as our direct care on the streets and through home visits, to include telemedicine and phone calls as much as possible. The number of creative changes is breathtaking, with new ideas implemented each day. 

We can do all of this only with the support and encouragement you have given us throughout the years. We are careful shepherds of our finances from donors and funders who embrace our mission with passion and persistence. No redundancy exists in our program as we now venture into uncharted waters financially. We need your help now more than ever on the brink of this devastating pandemic. Words cannot express our gratitude for all you have done for us. 

If you are able to provide support to help us with the unanticipated expenses needed to respond to this unprecedented public health pandemic, we would be so grateful.

If you have any questions about how you can help, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at the info@bhchp.org. We will respond to you as quickly as possible.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your belief in us and your friendship.

All our best,

Jim O’Connell, MD, President

Barry Bock, CEO



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