Partnerships with local organizations amplify community impact
When it comes to helping those challenged by homelessness and poverty, it truly takes a village. That is why, for over 40 years, the Haven has worked to establish partnerships with a wide variety of non-profit agencies. These connections provide job training, clothing, domestic violence counseling, mental health, physical health, housing, and heating fuel assistance to name just a sample. One of the oldest and most fruitful of these collaborations is with the Good Neighbor Health Clinic (GNHC).
The Good Neighbor Health Clinic began in 1992 as the vision of two doctors —Dr. Peter Mason and Dr. Paul Manganiello. Recognizing the lack of healthcare for the homeless and underinsured, they began to offer primary care at the old rectory of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. In the nearly thirty years since its founding, services offered at GNHC have expanded to include both primary and dental care at a freestanding health facility in downtown White River Junction. GNHC provides services to many uninsured or underinsured patients, including those referred from the Haven.
Today, the special relationship between the Haven and GNHC is preserved through a resource clinic where first-year medical students at the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine take complete medical histories of Haven guests. Together, the guest, medical student, and attending physician compile a list of health and health-related problems, which they then prioritize and develop into an action plan. “It gives the patients a blueprint they can then take to their primary care and social service providers. It’s an empowering experience,” notes Mason.
After conducting focus groups at the Haven on unmet medical needs, the medical students added a podiatry focus as part of the resource clinic. In addition, during the COVID-19 pandemic, students set up a tele-health project, checking in with people left homeless by the pandemic who were living in emergency shelter at local motels.
According to Mason, the Haven-GNHC partnership benefits both guests and medical students. “The resource clinic is staffed by first-year medical students who are largely in the classroom and are hungry for patient contact. To be able to improve healthcare and quality of life for patients reinforces why they went to medical school in the first place. And for the Haven guests, they can get coordinated, integrated care with someone who is really, truly listening to and advocating for them.”
In fall 2020, GNHC launched a mental health clinic in partnership with the psychiatric residency program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. “We have two residents, each of whom sees patients for a half day a week,” says Mason. “They are assisting primary care physicians in clarifying diagnoses or making new ones; they are sorting out complicated drug regimens and doing some talk therapy.” During the pandemic, Haven guests are seen virtually; when it is safe, they will be seen in person at GNHC. “The irony is that if you have insurance, it’s very hard to find a psychiatrist,” Mason concludes. “We’re delighted that our patients can access these critical behavioral health services.”
Renee Weeks, Director of Clinical and Shelter Services, added, “People we meet at the Haven who are experiencing homelessness have also experienced trauma in many forms. Many have had negative experiences with various systems of care and are reluctant to seek help until it becomes a crisis. Strong partner organizations, like Good Neighbor Health Clinic, understand these challenges and how to build on people’s strengths. The Haven can help someone find a home, but together we can help people reach their full potential.”