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Santa Barbara Co. health professionals working to improve services for homeless

Street medicine
Posted at 6:37 PM, Apr 24, 2023

As part of the new collaborative pilot program, "Street Medicine, Santa Barbara County,” dozens of health professionals gathered at Marian Regional Medical Center on Monday to kick off their efforts.

“There are many organizations all doing great things for the homeless, but together, I think we can really do a lot more,” said Sue Andersen, president and CEO of Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria.

“It is a forum for all of our partners in the healthcare system and in the community to work together and brainstorm new, novel ideas on how we can better coordinate services for our homeless population,” added Dr. Van Do-Reynoso of CenCal Health.

According to Santa Barbara County’s most recent point-in-time count, 700 people were found to be living in various local shelters, with another 1,200 living unsheltered.

“It has been a real challenge always to find care for this particular population. Part of it has been funding and we have that now,” said Dr. Willard Chung, Program Manager at Marian Regional Medical Center.

He says new statewide funding from Medicaid will be a game changer in bringing about new healthcare services for people experiencing homelessness.

“This is the first time we will be adding a provider that is going to accompany our outreach teams to go to where the homeless might be. Whether it is encampments, under bridges, or in tents, and the goal is to screen and refer for healthcare as it's needed,” said Dr. Mouhanad Hammami, Public Health Director for Santa Barbara County.

Those involved in the initiative say Monday’s forum was just the start of their efforts.

“We are thinking of doing this whole collaborative at least quarterly,” Andersen said.

“The fact that there is now funding out there to support this, I think this is really the first step for an ongoing project that is going to go on for a significant number of years,” Dr. Chueng added.

The team of health professionals says that over the next few months, the Street Medicine Program will be gathering more data on the specific healthcare needs among Santa Barbara County’s unsheltered population, which they will use to develop their plan for improving services.