Author: Marissa McGrath

The Way Station


New Facility Announced to Offer a Range of Services for Individuals Experiencing Homelessness

 

The Way Station: A resting point on the journey.

 

$4 million was allocated in the state’s capital budget for a new facility where individuals and families experiencing homelessness can find a range of services to assist their transition to sustainable housing and access to social and health services. Unity Care NW, Opportunity Council, PeaceHealth, and the Whatcom County Health Department, have partnered to repurpose Whatcom County’s 1500 N. State Street property as the location for a collaborative project called The Way Station.

 

The Way Station will serve homeless individuals in need of hygiene, medical and behavioral health services, and/or medical respite.  Medical respite is care for homeless persons who are too ill or frail to recover from a physical illness or injury on the streets but are not ill enough to be in a hospital. Patients experiencing homelessness who are discharged from the hospital but require space where they can recuperate and heal on a temporary basis can do so safely at The Way Station. They can also access wrap around services, including help into long-term housing.

 

Rep. Sharon Shewmake made the funding request for the collaboration. Of the Way Station, Rep. Shewmake said, “This project hits it all—housing, caring for community, saving money and helping to get people better and in housing.”

 

The work of health care providers is made more difficult by a lack of community hygiene facilities. Health care providers worry about the spread of disease resulting from inadequate sanitation. Simply providing access to shower and laundry facilities, greatly reduces the risk of infection to the individual and the larger community. The Way Station will make these essential hygiene services more widely available to homeless individuals.

 

Project Scope & Services:

  • Recuperative respite care staffed 24-7 to provide a quiet environment for recovery from a medical event.
  • Health care services provided by Unity Care (Medical, Behavioral Health services, & Substance Use Treatment) with expanded access to laboratory testing for illness, vaccine administration, and health monitoring.
  • Hygiene services: restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, and a hot room to treat belongings to prevent illness.
  • Case management services linking visitors and respite residents with social services and healthcare resources.
  • Connections to stable housing from Housing Case Managers from the Opportunity Council who will offer supportive pathways for patients to transition out of homelessness.

 

This unique collaboration involves many community partners who have been engaged since the start in researching models, touring facilities, and envisioning The Way Station. “We are thrilled our collaboration will be moving forward with this project, which has been a strategic priority for us for over 3 years,” said Chris Kobdish, Director of Planning & Development at Unity Care NW, “15% of our patients experience homelessness and The Way Station will make it possible to better serve them.”

 

The Whatcom County owned site provides adequate square footage to support the planned services and is close to transportation facilities and other social and health services including the Opportunity Council and Unity Care NW.

 

“The Way Station will provide a broad array of services – healthcare, hygiene, case management, and more – all at one location, significantly expanding our community’s ability to assist our homeless population,” said County Executive Satpal Sidhu. “Our partners have been instrumental in building momentum to get this project off the ground. I also greatly appreciate our legislators’ efforts in Olympia to secure state funding that, together with local resources, will help us address a gap in services for the unhoused.”

 

The team is working with RMC Architects to finalize the facility’s design.

 

Large-Scale Community Vaccination Center at BTC

A community collaboration of healthcare providers, including Family Care Network, PeaceHealth, Sea Mar Community Health Centers, Unity Care NW and the Whatcom County Health Department will operate a large-scale collaborative COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Bellingham Technical College.

The goal is to vaccinate up to 5,000 people at this site per week, depending on the reliability of weekly vaccine shipments from the state. The group is working diligently to finalize operations, staffing, logistics and other details.

At a time when the community’s healthcare professionals are under considerable strain, the assistance offered by BTC provides much needed resources for this project. In addition to hosting the vaccination site, students in BTC and Whatcom Community College’s nursing programs will help administer vaccinations.

The community vaccination clinic will abide by the Washington State Department of Health’s phased guidelines for vaccine eligibility. All parties are hopeful vaccine shipments will increase in the coming weeks.

All partners are finalizing logistics and operations related to the site’s launch, including an appointment scheduling system. Community members are asked not to call BTC with questions about vaccination scheduling. Updates about the community vaccination site, including launch date, hours of operation and how to book appointments, will be available on the Whatcom County Health Department’s website soon. Community members can also use the Vaccine Location function for the latest news on vaccine providers who are accepting appointments.

Find full details of the Community Vaccination Center and make an appointment here.

April is Sexually Transmitted Infection Awareness Month

Spotlight on Syphilis

With COVID-19 vaccine distribution in full swing, we’re all excited to be seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Businesses are beginning to re-open and people are emerging from a long dark winter of isolation to consider dating again; the timing couldn’t be better for Sexually Transmitted Infection Awareness Month.

This year, the nation’s health care providers are focusing on educating patients about syphilis. Once near elimination, syphilis was surging in the United States again just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In 2018, the United States experienced the highest number and rate of reported syphilis cases in 20 years. From 2014-2018, syphilis rates increased among both males and females, in every region, and among every race/ethnicity. Rates of syphilis went up 71% overall, 61% among men, and 172.7% among women. Men in general, and gay and bisexual men specifically, continue to face the highest levels of syphilis. In recent years, syphilis has also risen among women.

What is Syphilis Again?

Syphilis is an STD that can have very serious complications, thankfully it is often simple to cure. Diagnosing syphilis in the early stages makes treatment easier and reduces the likelihood that it will be spread to anyone else.

Syphilis is divided into four stages (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary), with different signs and symptoms associated with each stage. A person with primary syphilis generally has a sore or sores at the original site of infection. But calling them “sores” is a little misleading because they are typically painless, making them easy to miss. These sores, also called “chancres,” can usually be found on or around the genitals, around the anus or in the rectum, or in or around the mouth. Chancres are usually (but not always) firm, round, shiny and look like open wounds.

Symptoms of secondary syphilis include a body rash, swollen lymph nodes, and fever. The signs and symptoms of primary and secondary syphilis can be mild, and they might not even be noticed. During the latent stage, there are often no signs or symptoms. It could seem like you’re all better; making the final stage a big surprise for those who go undiagnosed. The final stage is Tertiary syphilis. Tertiary syphilis is associated with severe medical problems. It can affect the heart, brain, and other organs of the body. It can cause skeletal deformity, severe headaches, paralysis and dementia.  Neurologic or ocular (eye) syphilis are very serious can occur at any stage.  Having syphilis also makes it easier to get HIV.

How is syphilis spread?

You can get syphilis by direct contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. YES oral sex too! You can find sores on or around the penis, vagina, or anus, or in the rectum, on the lips, or in the mouth. Syphilis can also spread from an infected mother to their unborn baby.

What You Can Do to Prevent Syphilis

If you are sexually active, here are some ways to lower your chances of getting syphilis:

  • Use latex barriers or condoms for every act of vaginal, anal, and oral sex throughout the entire sex act (from start to finish). Condoms prevent the spread of syphilis by preventing contact with a syphilis chancre. Sometimes sores can occur in areas not covered by a condom, so you could still get syphilis from contact with these sores, even if you are wearing a condom.
  • Check for sores, bumps, chancres; any apparent wound on your genitals and keep an eye out for anything that could be a chancre on your sex partner(s). If you see something: say something and delay sexual activity until you can both see a doctor.
  • Get tested – it’s the only way to know if you have syphilis. CDC recommends all sexually active people be tested for specific STDs, including syphilis, at least once a year, and more frequently for those who have multiple or anonymous partners (i.e., at 3- to 6-month intervals).
  • Talk about it! Silence helps to fuel the spread of STDs.
    • Have an honest and open talk with your healthcare provider about your sexual history and ask whether you should be tested for syphilis or other STDs.
    • Talk with your partner about sex and STDs BEFORE you have sex.

If you test positive, syphilis can be cured with the right medicine from your healthcare provider.

 

 

Kate Wojnicki, ARNP, Unity Care NW

I’m a Family Nurse Practitioner and HIV Specialist at Unity Care NW.  I hold a Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and a Master of Science in Nursing/ Nurse Practitioner degree from Seattle Pacific University.  After spending 6 years in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at UW and volunteering in Uganda, it became my personal belief that access to high quality primary care was the answer to many of the problems we see in medicine.  I later completed a Community Health Residency in Tacoma with a focus on caring for persons living with HIV. I joined Unity Care NW in 2014 as an opportunity to serve the community where I spent much of my childhood.  I earned my HIV credential through the American Academy of HIV Medicine in 2016. 

 

Content source: Centers for Disease Control Division of STD PreventionNational Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB PreventionCenters for Disease Control and Prevention

Lose Your Insurance? You Can Apply for Health Benefits Now!

A Special Enrollment Period for those who are currently uninsured begins on February 15, 2021 and runs through August 15, 2021.

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange (WAHBE) will provide a special enrollment period (SEP) to extend the time frame for Washingtonians seeking health coverage. Health coverage is a necessary step to ensure the ongoing health, safety, and well-being of our community during the current pandemic.

What you need to know:

  • Current Washington Health Plan Finder enrollees are not eligible and may not change plans unless you have recently experienced a qualifying life event that allows for a plan change.
  • Enrollment follows the “15th of the month” rule. For example:
    • Enrollments that occur before the 15th of the month will have a coverage start date of the first day of the following month.
    • Enrollments after 15th of the month will have a coverage start date of the month after the next month – the second following month.

How to get started:

  • Call 1-(833) 969-0306 to talk to a enrollment specialist between M-F from 8 am to 5 pm for help through the insurance process.