Health Care Pt 1Last week, I was honored to be a keynote speaker and share my thoughts on the topic of “Home Matters to Health” at the annual Cornerstone Community Housing luncheon.

City and state leaders and a wide range of professionals involved in health care, affordable housing and social service non-profit agencies gathered together to discuss ways to better care for our community.

I began my talk by sharing an encounter I had as a medical student volunteering at a juvenile detention center in Portland. A 15-year-old girl, whose rap sheet included prostitution, theft and drug use, came to my clinic complaining of a sore throat. I’ll admit, I entered that room with preconceived opinions about this girl. But what happened during our meeting forever changed my views about homelessness and the complex web of social problems associated with it.

After treating her, I asked if she was disappointed to be back in juvie for the fifth time. “Oh no, I really look forward to being here,” she told me. “It’s where I come to feel safe and rest up.” The teen told me that she and her mother and sisters had been on the run from her abusive father since she was 9-years-old. They had never stayed in one city longer than a few months. No friends, no education, often going hungry, stealing food and clothes, beaten and frightened—in other words, homelessness stole this girl’s childhood. Juvenile detention represented safety and a brief moment of stability. That day, I promised myself that I would fight for kids like her so they could have a chance at a better life.

Twenty years later, and for the first time in my career, I truly believe we have a chance to change health care in this nation, from a system focused on fixing broken, sick people into a network that prevents illness and addresses social ills that lead to poor health.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, significant money is now being directed toward innovative programs that bring professionals together to promote wellness. I explained to the audience at the luncheon about the new way we deliver care at Eugene Pediatrics and Thrive Behavioral Health and how it has proven to me that we really can make a difference if we bring specialists from different fields together to assist patients and families.

A doctor cannot fix all of the problems affecting a family that doesn’t have a roof over its head, but a social worker can help. A social worker cannot treat pneumonia, but a physician can. Neither a social worker nor a physician can offer intensive behavioral therapy to a depressed teen, but a child psychologist is trained to do so. When experts from all three of these fields are in one place, working shoulder to shoulder, we can literally change lives. This is what’s happening every day in our practice under this new caregiving model.

But these changes are not enough. In part 2 of this blog topic, I’ll share five critical steps that need to be taken to help ensure everyone in our community has access to better health care. Check back soon!