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News / Health / Clark County Health

Easing access to health care for homeless is challenging in Clark County


By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: September 16, 2023, 6:04am

Health providers are adding new initiatives to help homeless residents who need care, though challenges remain.

PeaceHealth will open its Community Health Hub, aimed to reduce barriers to access for patients with high needs, like residents experiencing housing instability.

Through the hub, patients who have social needs will be connected, face to face in most instances, with representatives of organizations that can help with housing, food and legal services, among other things.

Clark County Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick acknowledged that there is stigma associated with homelessness, mental health and substance use disorders. Yet it doesn’t overwhelm the medical field.

“There’s a lot of physicians, and other health care providers who don’t do that and treat people with respect,” he said.

Apple Health

In Washington, low-income residents and people experiencing homelessness can sign up for inexpensive health insurance through the Apple Health & Homes program, which provides coverage for primary care, emergency visits and medication.

However, lack of technology or addresses keeps some people from using the program or other state insurance.

Local resource fairs sometimes have medical providers come to the events and assist people in signing up for health care.

“But without an address, where are you going to be getting your statements from your insurance company?” said Dianna Kretzschmar, health service liaison for Vancouver Specialty. “Where are you getting your information about your medical condition, so if the doctor wants to follow up with you? What if you don’t have a phone? All of these things lead to a recipe for disaster.”