Pasco County wants to make medical house calls to people without a house. Borrowing a strategy from a neighboring county, Pasco's homeless advisory board plans to run a medical van to shelters and camps to provide basic health care to Pasco's homeless population.
It is a sound idea that has been used in Pinellas for more than two decades. This is a commendable community effort involving Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger, Pasco Commissioner Pat Mulieri, the county's Community Development staff, the Pasco unit of the state Health Department, United Way, Florida Hospital and other homeless advocates.
The van — actually a second-hand 40-foot diesel vehicle purchased from Pinellas County — and the medical personnel assigned to it will make six to eight runs each month to places where the homeless congregate. If successful, it will boost the physical health of the homeless by providing treatment to minor injuries and medical concerns before they balloon into more serious conditions requiring costly emergency room visits and hospitalizations.
There likely will be plenty of patients. A one-day count in January found the number of homeless at 4,400. The number of people considered chronically homeless — that is homeless for at least a year — was nearly 1,600 with only 175 of them living in shelters. In total, nearly 8,000 people are homeless — using the state definition. That includes people living in the woods, plus children and families crashing in somebody else's house, living in motels, awaiting foster care or sleeping in their cars.
The van, which won't begin its runs until supplies and personnel are in order, also highlights a larger problem. Uninsured people needing referrals for more serious health problems have few available options. It is a situation exacerbated by Gov. Rick Scott's vindictive veto in June of $1.25 million for a health care clinic for the needy in northwest Pasco.
The clinic's biggest advocate was frequent Scott critic Sen. Mike Fasano and the clinic was to be inside a hurricane shelter bearing the senator's name.
The mobile medical clinic is a welcome start, but clearly not a complete answer to addressing the medical issues surrounding Pasco's growing homeless population.