On Call with Dr. Pepe
Restoring Dignity, Health to the Homeless
For those of us who enjoy the warmth of summer and the abundance of sunshine it brings, Dec. 21 is our least favorite day of the year. Dec. 21 is the winter solstice – the longest night of the year and the beginning of winter. Last year, Catholic Medical Center marked this day with a memorial service at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Manchester for those individuals faced with homelessness who died in 2017.
For those who attended the memorial service, two things stood out. First and foremost, there was the reading of the names of 28 homeless individuals who died. They included Jeff, who had multiple sclerosis and was confined to a wheelchair. He died at a homeless camp. Then there was Paul, who died while at a makeshift shelter with no heat, running water or electricity. He was in his 40s, but suffered from many health problems that required ongoing medical care and medication. Because of his homelessness, he was unable to take his medication consistently and correctly. Each of the many stories told that night was equally sad and tragic.
The second thing that stood out was how cold that night was – just 20 degrees. As the hymn “Amazing Grace” was sung, everyone could see his or her breath. Almost everyone commented on the frigid weather and wondered how homeless individuals can stay out in the cold all night. Each of us was thankful for the gift of our own home.
The plight of the homeless is real, not only in big cities like New York City and Los Angeles, but also in a place like Manchester, N.H. A 2016 report estimated 11,000 people faced homelessness in New Hampshire. It estimated that at least 2,000 people are without a home on any given night in Manchester alone. That’s 2,000 sons or daughters, mothers or fathers. Some are veterans who served our country in the armed forces. The numbers are hard to imagine, but the staff of Catholic Medical Center’s Health Care for the Homeless Team can attest to their veracity. In 2017, CMC’s staff served 1,756 patients, 64 percent of whom were male and 36 percent female. In 2017, there were a total of 6,920 visits, 22 percent of which were for behavioral and substance use disorder.
The CMC Health Care for the Homeless team has a staff of over 20 CMC employees that includes physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, mental health and substance abuse counselors, as well as health educators and care coordinators. They meet with patients at two clinics – one at New Horizons for NH and the other at Families in Transition – as well as back alleys, homeless camps and under bridges. Our staff is dedicated to ensuring that individuals who face the challenges of homelessness are treated with dignity and respect by receiving high quality medical care, as well as substance abuse and mental health counseling. Doing so can help them realize their potential to live long, productive lives, starting with finding their way out of homelessness.
Many of us have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. As we give thanks for all that we have, let us not forget those who have so little – including men, women and children facing homelessness – and do our part assisting our brothers and sisters in need.
Dr. Joseph Pepe is the president and CEO of CMC Healthcare System: Catholic Medical Center, New England Heart & Vascular Institute, and several subsidiaries. He and his wife reside in Manchester.