Pennsylvania Recognized for Pioneering Street Medicine for Medicaid Beneficiaries

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HARRISBURG, PA — The Department of Human Services (DHS) staff were honored with Governor’s Awards for Excellence this past week. They were recognized for their groundbreaking work in enabling medical providers to offer care outside traditional clinical settings to Medicaid beneficiaries experiencing homelessness, a practice known as street medicine.

Leading the Nation in Innovative Care

In 2023, DHS made a significant change to Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program, also known as Medical Assistance, by allowing reimbursement for street medicine services. This innovative approach positioned Pennsylvania as one of only three states initially to support such a model. Since then, the federal government has extended this flexibility to all states, following Pennsylvania’s lead.

“I am incredibly proud of the hardworking DHS employees recognized with these Governor’s Awards for Excellence,” said DHS Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh. She highlighted that street medicine reduces barriers to care and demonstrates the state’s commitment to recognizing human dignity regardless of circumstances.

Recognized Innovators

The award-winning DHS team includes Wanda Balmer, Margaret Christie, Summerann Clarke, Evangeline Cullers, Melody Hertzog, Pamela Machamer-Peechatka, Shivani Patel, Rebecca Robey, Maki Traynor, and Benny Varghese. These individuals work within the Office of Medical Assistance Programs and the Office of Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Services. Their efforts span physical and behavioral health care in Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program.

Comprehensive Care for Vulnerable Populations

The team collaborated with advocates and street medicine practitioners to shape policy and implement a phased approach. This allows eligible providers, including physicians, nurse midwives, and psychologists, to practice and bill Medicaid for street medicine. In Fall 2023, DHS expanded the list of eligible providers to include dentists, federally qualified health centers, rural health clinics, podiatrists, and various behavioral health care providers.

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This comprehensive inclusion makes Pennsylvania’s street medicine program the most extensive in the nation. It provides a broad spectrum of services to individuals experiencing homelessness, promoting a holistic approach to healthcare.

Street Medicine’s Impact on Homelessness

Street medicine offers a lifeline to the homeless population, who often face significant barriers to accessing traditional healthcare. By bringing medical care directly to the streets, this initiative ensures that vulnerable individuals receive the necessary treatment without needing emergency department visits, which are costly and often less effective for ongoing care.

The implications of this program are far-reaching. It not only improves health outcomes for individuals experiencing homelessness but also reduces the overall burden on emergency services and hospitals. Moreover, it fosters a more inclusive healthcare system that acknowledges and addresses the unique needs of all community members.

National Leadership and Future Prospects

Pennsylvania’s approach serves as a model of innovation and compassion. The state’s leadership in expanding and formalizing street medicine can inspire other regions to adopt similar policies, potentially transforming healthcare for marginalized populations across the country.

In summary, the recognition of DHS staff for their work in establishing a robust street medicine program highlights Pennsylvania’s commitment to healthcare innovation. By addressing the needs of the homeless population through innovative solutions, the state sets a precedent for compassionate and effective public health strategies.

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