Many young people arrive at the Covenant House Pennsylvania (CHPA) from the streets, where they face the threat of severe weather and muggings and attacks, in addition to dealing with the physical stress on their body related to sleeping outside. These homeless young people have poor access to health care, which leads to delayed diagnoses, increased reliance on emergency departments, and higher rates of hospitalization — often for preventable conditions.
A 2014 study of 66 homeless youth age 18-24 revealed that the prevalence of having at least one psychiatric disorder may be up to 4 times the national prevalence in youth of the same age group (82% and 19% respectively). Similarly high rates were found in a 2012 study of 87 homeless youth where 84% of the sample met the diagnostic criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder.1
The Covenant House Pennsylvania Clinic
For more than 15 years, we have provided homeless youth the very best medical care through our clinic, which has received generous funding and support for many years from the Independence Blue Cross Foundation. Since its inception, the CHPA clinic has been led by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. The clinic also has two additional doctors, a psychiatrist, a substance abuse specialist, and a clinical coordinator on staff.
The Impact of Social Context and Stressors on Physical and Emotional Health
The CHPA clinic practices social adolescent medicine — medicine that pays special attention to prevention and the recognition that social context and stressors impact both physical and emotional health. While the clinic serves all of the physical health needs of patients, including examination, treatment and referral, and ongoing management of urgent and chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, sickle-cell disease, and HIV), the clinic also adds another dimension to health care. It focuses on addressing stress and trauma as the underlying forces that drive most behaviors that threaten good health. Our service-delivery model provides for both immediate, ongoing, and preventive health care needs.
Without our services, many homeless youth would completely neglect their sometimes serious medical issues. Luckily, our clinic reconnects young people to health care services, enabling them to move on to a healthier and more stable life.
1National HCH Council, In Focus, Vol 3 Issue 4, 2015.