H-SANTA BARBARA COUNTY

Dec 13, 2010 9:53 PM by Ariel Wesler

County expands medical services for the homeless

Santa Barbara County health experts are helping those without a home this winter get better access to medical care.

Santa Barbara County Public Health is expanding its Health Care for the Homeless program. A report released in July showed 45 homeless people died between January 2009 and March of this year. The study has enabled the county to make some improvements.

Samantha Monaco is a recovering alcoholic.

"I was sober for 13 years and relapsed," Monaco said.

She undergoes treatment at the Good Samaritan Shelter clinic in Santa Maria. It's one of three shelter clinics run by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department. This is the first time the agency has added evening hours for its homeless patients.

"They're either going to school or they're working other types of jobs, and they're not able to come to the regular shelter clinic hours during the day," said Dr. David Lennon, the program's medical director.

Public health administrators are working to expand medical care and reduce the number of homeless deaths in the county.

"TB testing, H.I.V., medication for helping detox, it's been really wonderful," Monaco said. "I don't know what I would have done. I don't have any insurance.

Public health experts say many people are aware of the clinics, but are reluctant to go due to mental illness or substance abuse. So, the county is adjusting its tactics.

"One of our recommendations was to increase outreach on the streets. Go to where we know people are and help them receive the proper medications and proper care," Dr. Lennon said.

The county hopes these clinics will eventually become a place where the homeless can receive total care for chronic health conditions.

"Maybe help less people die out there on the streets," Monaco said.

The other two shelter clinics are in Santa Barbara. They are Casa Esparanza and the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. At this point, they do not offer evening hours, but the county is also looking to expand their hours.

The Public Health Department is putting together another homeless death report. Administrators expect to release it early next year.

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