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Founded in 1999, Health Care Without Walls seeks to improve the lives of women who are homeless or marginally housed through quality health care, education and advocacy. When organization founder, Dr. Roseanna Means, finished medical school and her residency, she took a job in “mainstream medicine” to pay the bills. Along the way, she felt a loss of idealism that had initially brought her into the profession of medicine. It was while she was working at Massachusetts General Hospital that she had her “ah-ha” moment. She found herself walking past homeless people on her way to work and became bothered that there were people outside a major medical institution that were not receiving the care they needed.
Dr. Means took action. She worked with Boston’s Health Care for the Homeless for seven years. During that time, she observed that homeless women were underrepresented at clinics and learned that using traditional healthcare access venues, even when staffed by doctors trained in caring for the homeless, is overwhelming for women impaired by exhaustion, mental illness and fear. She wanted to dedicate herself to women’s health issues as well as to address the dire consequences of the inefficiencies in the current healthcare system for vulnerable women and children.
Dr. Means began providing free care in one shelter in 1998 while she concurrently ran a private practice. Soon she recruited other physicians to help and what began as a volunteer effort, grew to become an alternative and complementary medical model.
The model is direct and practical. The first year, the volunteer doctors provided 700 patient encounters. Now, after more than 15 years, Health Care Without Walls delivers 10,000 encounters annually and sends a team of volunteer physicians, volunteer nurses and paid nurses into 8 shelters in and around Boston. In addition to free, accessible patient-centered care, Health Care Without Walls provides health education sessions for women; offers outreach and advocacy support; trains medical students nursing students and medical residents each year; wrote a curriculum on homeless health car; and is engaged in research to elucidate access barriers in order to help create viable and meaningful solutions.