Neighborhood clinics provide medical home for underserved, homeless

Tonight, most children in the Fort Worth/Tarrant County area will sleep comfortably, tucked in their beds by parents or guardians, and wake in the morning secure in their own homes.

But other children in the region don’t enjoy that comfort and security. They are living in emergency shelters, transitional housing or supportive housing. They are homeless.

Of the more than 4,000 homeless people in Tarrant County, more than 1,000 are children. Because of their unstable lives, these children find it nearly impossible to have proper medical care. They need a stable medical home, defined as primary health care that is accessible, continuous, comprehensive, family centered, coordinated, compassionate and culturally effective.

That is why Cook Children’s Hospital and Medical Center has embraced these children by providing them with medical care accompanied by comprehensive case management services for their families.

Each week, a Cook’s van transports the children and their parents or guardians to the Miller Neighborhood Clinic for a doctor’s care and then drives them to the pharmacy for any needed medications.  A financial counselor is on site to help the family enroll in Medicaid.

Maria del Pilar Levy, M.D., serves as the medical director of the Neighborhood Clinics. She supervises the clinical practice and helps develop educational programs for parents.

“When families bring in a brand-new patient with a fever and sore throat, we are not only going to treat the child’s problem, we are going to provide a medical home where we can address a whole range of issues the family may face,” Dr. Levy says. “We can take a more proactive approach and give the family anticipatory guidance.”

Cook Children’s supports four neighborhood clinics. Those on Northside Drive (Jacksboro Highway) and Miller Avenue were established 10 years ago. The other two – at McCart Avenue in Fort Worth and Cooper Street in Arlington – are new, thanks to a generous grant from Bank of America.

Education and treatment go hand-in-hand at these clinics, which were founded to provide medical homes for children with limited access to primary care and for the homeless.

The clinics also offer obesity classes and newborn classes, supervised by Develle Williams, a registered nurse. Williams leads classes on basic baby feeding and bathing and offers new parents a community resource that is not being provided elsewhere.

The educational aspect of the neighborhood clinics gives them an advantage over the average pediatric practice or a retail health clinic. According to Dr. Levy, the patient’s family often knows little more than how to provide “very basic care.” The clinics teach parents how to go beyond that basic level.

Dr. Levy says the clinics clearly fit into Cook Children’s “Promise” to children – to improve the health of every child in our region through the prevention and treatment of illness, disease, and injury.

“The goal is to have healthier kids who will become healthier adults,” Dr. Levy says. “The best way to keep kids healthy is to educate the parents. Many of them don’t have the knowledge they need. We offer them that education.”

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