Health Care for the Homeless, which provides free medical services from its downtown center, has expanded its weekday clinic hours to Saturday and reserved mornings for women. The clinic staff will also offer child care so that patients can meet privately with physicians.
Situated amid storefronts on Park Avenue, the nonprofit organization used a $233,333 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to open Saturday clinics, which started last week. The facility can admit as many as 26 patients with appointments, with time left for walk-ins. The staff saw 10 patients last weekend, and 13 have made appointments for tomorrow.
Women, who make up 34 percent of the clinic's patients, typically feel uncomfortable in a waiting room full of men, said Jeff Singer, president of Health Care for the Homeless. Increased privacy coupled with child care should draw more women to the clinic, he said. He has set aside Saturday afternoons for day laborers who cannot make weekday medical appointments.
Annette Davis was among the first to take advantage of the Saturday women's clinic. The 50-year-old grandmother, whose gray curls spilled from a black turban, said she hoped a doctor would prescribe medication for hypertension.
Clutching a frayed blanket, Davis said she is "not on the streets but moving all the time from one place to another," including a women's day shelter that recommended she visit the clinic.
Chronic hypertension has spawned other ailments, and constant worry about where she will spend the night adds to her health problems, she said.
"I have no insurance, but I need my blood pressure medicine," Davis said. "The only way to get it is to come here. If I can get my health on track, I can get to the other things."
When Singer spotted Davis in the waiting room, he asked, "Don't I know you?"
"Yes," she answered with a smile. "You helped me with my three children years ago. You helped me find a place to live."
"We can work on that again," Singer said.
The free health care facility, founded in 1985, served more than 8,000 patients last year. It has a staff of 104, including psychiatrists, other doctors, social workers and addictions counselors, Singer said. Its clinics and programs tallied 55,000 patient visits last year.
"We are not just putting on Band-Aids," Singer said. "We are changing lives by providing a comprehensive set of services and by giving hope."
At least 3,000 Baltimoreans are homeless every day in a city that has about 2,000 shelter beds, mostly for men. The homeless often suffer from hypertension, diabetes and dermatological problems, and about 12 percent of them suffer from HIV/AIDS, Singer said.
"It is hard to manage chronic disease while living on the street," he said.
The Saturday clinic does HIV testing and counseling and will add mental health treatment next month.
Davis saw a doctor, scheduled follow-up appointments and left with a prescription last week. Health Care for the Homeless will continue to treat her hypertension. A social worker will help her gain access to public services and possibly find her a small apartment. Once her blood pressure is under control, the center might also connect her with vocational training and a job.
"She deserves better," Singer said. "We all deserve better."
The clinic runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays at 111 Park Ave. Information: 410-404-8505.