You may not know it, but people living in poverty face many challenges to accessing healthcare services. And many times, the healthcare industry doesn’t understand those challenges, either.

Many of the people we serve don’t trust someone with whom they don’t have a relationship with. They especially distrust an institution or anything that appears to be governmental or wanting to collect information about them.

And that poses a problem, because hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices and other places require patients to fill out lots of paperwork.  There’s often a lot of fear around that. People in poverty worry the government may think they’re bad parents and try to take away their kids. They may be in our country illegally. Or they may have a drug abuse problem and are afraid of being discovered. So they tend to stay away from medical facilities, unless it is a crisis situation.

Another challenge is lack of education. Many helpful agencies and healthcare providers are notorious for having people fill out reams of paperwork. But what happens when those forms are given to people who can’t read or write or who have low literacy skills?  They can’t complete them and there’s usually no one around to help them. To avoid being embarrassed and feeling ashamed, they stay away from offices requiring paperwork they can’t read. So that’s a big deterrent.

Then there’s the challenge of not getting preventative treatment. We’ve discovered through our “Meet the Doc” events that dental care is a major problem here in the Ozarks. Toothaches and abscessed teeth can be very painful. And without treatment, they don’t go away. Too many times, people living in poverty wait until the pain is so bad, that they are forced to deal with it. This is typically the crisis situation.  They often seek to have the tooth pulled just to make the pain stop or revert to pain medications. But when you try to interest them in preventive dental care to avoid issues it isn’t a concept they are very familiar with. Theirs is a high-stress environment: they live with today’s problems, not tomorrow’s. And so their teeth don’t receive proper care.

The same holds true with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. People too often put off seeking medical attention until the pain is intense, and sometimes that point is too late.

Then there’s health insurance coverage. A lot of the people Jesus Was Homeless serves are the working poor. They fall in a coverage gap because they earn too much money to be on Medicaid, but they don’t make enough to qualify for federal health insurance subsidies.

Finally, there are children’s issues. In 2014, 565 babies were born at Cox Medical Center here in Branson; over 300 of them were discharged to local extended stay motels. Many are missing out on things such as well baby checkups. Transportation is often to blame. For a family with no car, no public transportation means there’s no way to get to the doctor’s office.

Jesus Was Homeless has helped the people we serve through our “Meet the Doc” events. That’s where we bring in health care providers and local non-profit agencies to help get people connected to the resources they need. That can be difficult for those without transportation because in Branson all those resources are spread out. So we provide an all inclusive day where people can get teeth examined, eyes examined, talk to a Doctor or Nurse Practitioner and connect with area resources such as Smoking Cessation and Mental Health services, all in one place. We have even provided transportation to make sure they get to their appointments.

In our new facility, we are partnering with Cox Hospital Branson and moving toward providing a walk-in telemedicine connection, where people who need non-urgent care but can’t afford a trip to the doctor, can come to Jesus Was Homeless and tele-connect with the services they need. The same is true for mental health treatment and hopefully a tele-court solution in the future..

The benefits of helping the people we serve stay healthy extend to the entire community. Good health means fewer lost work hours on the job, and that’s especially important given that so many of these folks work on the front lines providing customer service.

It takes a community to come together and walk alongside people, teaching them things they’ve never known and providing solutions that had never been available to them.

I’m happy to say Jesus Was Homeless is uniting our community in extending assistance to people who need it the most.