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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Travelers Aid, URI College of Nursing team up
to provide area homeless with health care

KINGSTON, R.I. -- August 28, 2000 -- Homeless people and families in central and southern Rhode Island now have three sites they can visit for primary health care and referral services thanks to a joint project of Travelers Aid and the University of Rhode Island's College of Nursing.

Called The Health Access, Referral and Treatment (H.A.R.T.) Project, it delivers services through an outreach team that includes a URI nurse practitioner, and a health support outreach worker.

The team visits Crossroads Transitional Living program in North Kingstown, the Warwick Shelter Inc., in Warwick, and the WARM Shelter in Westerly. The team has also recently provided services at the Welcome House in Peace Dale.

The program grew out of work being done by Rebecca Carley, URI assistant professor of nursing, who has run a free health clinic at Travelers Aid in Providence for the past three years.

"You need people with diverse experiences, and this is where our faculty members are strong," said Denise Coppa, director of the Family Nurse Practitioner Program at URI and assistant clinical professor of nursing. "They have a long history of working with families, and particularly the underserved."

While the program provides homeless families and individuals with the primary care they need, it allows URI faculty to keep their skills current and gives students the opportunity to hone clinical skills by working hand-in-hand with patients.

Kathleen Phillips, of Warwick, a family nurse practitioner and clinical assistant professor of nursing at URI, is currently working on the H.A.R.T. team that visits the local facilities. The team works closely with local health care providers to coordinate care. Any family or individual without a permanent place to live, staying in a shelter, on the street, or in a transitional living program is eligible. Services are free. Individuals seeking further information should call 521-2255, extension 33.

"We were asked to increase access to health care beyond Providence," Phillips said. "There is a lot of need."

At Crossroads, where 57 families can live, there is a focus on children," Phillips said. "We pay attention to such issues as public health, immunizations, early infant health. We treat illnesses. Because records don't follow families in transition, we also try to develop a complete medical history of each patient. That often means hunting down previous records."

Jean Barry, executive director at the WARM (Westerly Area Rest Meals), a non-profit organization that runs a shelter for 13 homeless men and six homeless women and offers five beds of transitional housing, said Phillips is always busy at the Westerly site. WARM also runs a soup kitchen at the site.

"We are always full, and we turn people away daily," Barry said.

Barry pointed out that when she was first approached about the program offered by Phillips, she was wary. "We have a good relationship with Wood River Health Services, so I had many questions about whether this would be worthwhile. "Now I am so pleased with how this is going, because we are catching medical problems early before they become serious. I just can't begin to tell you how important this program is to the people we service. I am someone who had some questions about it at first, and now I am a firm believer in what Kathy is doing. She has a great way with people, and is excellent at diagnosis."

Resident John Dutton agrees. "She (Kathy) is wonderful. She is a good caring person who takes care of our medical needs. She is a real person."

Dutton said he has been seeing Phillips each week because of medical conditions that haven't been addressed for long periods. He is in fact grateful for all of the help that he gets at the shelter. "They have done a lot for me here. Jean, who runs the place, is an excellent person."

At the WARM Shelter, many people are from nearby Connecticut. "The goal is to have everyone at the shelter see me," Phillips said.

Phillips also provides health care at the Warwick Shelter, which recently housed 10 adults and 27 children. The average length of stay at the emergency shelter housed at the former St. Benedict's Convent is six weeks.

"A fair number of families eventually go to Crossroads Transitional Living in North Kingstown, so it's nice for me to have the connection on both ends," Phillips said. "We are just beginning to see the advantages - we should be able to do more bridging between the two sites, which would help both the shelter and Crossroads."

"Our first day in Warwick was a humdinger," Phillips said. "An electrical substation was down in that part of the city on a hot, rainy day, so we walked into a dark shelter, with no fans or air conditioning, and only the small lights provided by the emergency generator.

"We had to move to a different room where we could pull the shade all the way up and get as much natural light as possible which wasn't easy because of the gray sky."

At the Warwick site Phillips said the largest group of patients comes from Providence, then Warwick, then assorted other communities. "There are a fair number who come from other states, not realizing that affordable housing is so hard to find in Rhode Island; we're ranked as the 3rd worst state in the nation," she said. "So though it's located in Warwick, the shelter serves people from a wide geographic area."

Phillips, who holds her master's degree from URI, has been a nurse for 22 years, and said, "The work is tremendously different from anything I have ever done. You have to recognize that what would be a small victory for a mainstream person can be a major victory for these patients. There are some people, through no fault of their own, who will never be fully self-sufficient. People in difficult circumstances deserve compassionate, convenient health care.

"Many of my patients are working very hard to overcome their troubles. It takes lots of courage to admit a problem and then to do something about it.

"It's important for our students to see these struggles, and to gain a new perspective," Phillips said.

Flo Coningford of North Providence, an outreach support person with Travelers Aid who works with Phillips, said the URI professor is doing great work. "She gives them the attention they need," Coningford said. "When you treat this group with a little tender loving care, they really respond, and Kathy is wonderful at that."

Other organizations participating in the project are: South County Health Center, Bayside Family Health Center, Wood River Health Center, South County Hospital, South County Mental Health Center, and Marathon Inc.

The project is supported by a grant from the Bureau of Primary Health Care, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


For Information: Kathleen Phillips 401-874-2766,
Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116


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