NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco will soon have a medical van to provide basic health care to the county's more than 4,000 homeless people.
Homeless advocates say the van will be key to caring for people who likely don't have health care and have little access to free clinics. It will make between six and eight trips per month to shelters and camps across the county and treat the basics — cuts and wounds, colds, lice.
"They're not doing brain surgery," said county commissioner Pat Mulieri, who as a member of the county's homeless advisory board helped raise $25,000 to buy the van. "We have to do it right, but start small."
Many homeless people have relatively minor health problems that get worse because of a lack of medical care, said the Rev. Jim Campbell, president of the ROPE Center in Hudson.
Campbell shared a story of one man with a sore on his heel. He put a bandage on it, but the wound reopened and developed into a staph infection after the man spent several days walking the streets. Campbell found him some socks and antibacterial ointment. The injury healed in a little more than a week.
"Many of these people, they don't have a way to get these little things taken care of," he said.
The 40-foot diesel van became available in April after Pinellas County bought a new, larger truck with federal stimulus money. Major donors helping Pasco buy the van included the United Way and the nonprofit Florida Hospital. No public money was used to buy the van.
The van will be kept in a county facility and insured by Pasco-Pinellas Public Defender Bob Dillenger's office. David Johnson, the director of Pasco's health department, agreed to oversee a nurse who would operate out of the van.
The van will start making its rounds once the personnel and supplies are lined up.
Campbell said he hopes to have one of the Homeless Coalition's portable showers travel with the medical van. Right now, one of the showers is used three times a week at the ROPE Center and is also used at Gulf Coast Community Care in Port Richey. The other shower is mostly "sitting dormant on the east side of the county."
Mulieri is now focused on raising money for continued operations. She plans to talk with the county's hospitals to ask if they will help pay for salaries for part-time nurse practitioners. She said those donations would eventually save the hospitals money because it would keep more homeless people out of emergency rooms.
Mulieri is also working with Rasmussen College to collect supplies such as bandages, gloves, syringes and lice medication. She's also working with Saint Leo University and Pasco-Hernando Community College for medical and social work interns.
Johnson, with the health department, said once homeless people get basic care, some will need referrals to doctors for larger problems. That's a hole in Pasco's system, which only has a few clinics for low-income residents. "We don't have (the network) that they have in Pinellas," he said.
Lee Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.