A nurse practitioner-led pilot project designed to reach vulnerable populations in the field — by bringing much-needed services to them — is prepared to hit the ground running.
"One of the issues is the revolving door — where people come into the system, go out the other door — then come back in again," says Coun. Mark King, Chair of the District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board (DNSSAB).
The pilot program will focus on people experiencing housing insecurity, poverty, and homelessness and services will be delivered to individuals in their community settings. The funding for the $150,000 project comes from the Social Service Relief Fund (mental health and addictions) money DNSSAB has been allocated by the provincial Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Nurse practitioners will have access to a vehicle, purchased by Nipissing District Housing Corporation (NDHC) from that funding.
The nurse practitioners will provide clinical services to individuals staying at the Crisis Centre's Four Elms, the Chippewa Street West low-barrier shelter and NDHC tenants throughout the Nipissing district. Regularly scheduled and accessible clinic locations will be set up throughout the district, including NDHC housing locations and in-home visits for individuals who are house-bound or have mobility challenges will also be provided.
King says there are "so many organizations out there that provide services that could help [the underserved]," but we find people don't always know about these services, how to access them, to help themselves. "They don't know how to negotiate through the system."
According to a report from Stacey Cyopeck, the manager of housing programs for DNSSAB, "Individuals who are homeless or precariously housed find it challenging to navigate the health care system, contributing to susceptibility to relapse and lack of trust in care providers."
It is hoped this "cutting edge" mobile program can bridge the gap of services between hospitals and health care centres within the community.
"Current research shows that best practices should include programs that extend beyond the hospital setting to the community setting where these individuals can access continuity of care while transitioning to a more stable living situation with services in place," the report reads.
An ancillary benefit of the pilot is an expected reduction in calls to EMS for matters the nurse practitioners in the field will address with clients. When more of the population has access to primary care, better outcomes and lower costs result, the report notes.
Along with connecting available services with those who need them most, says King, "the idea is to try to alleviate some of these massive, extenuating costs," associated with the health care revolving door.
Board member Coun. Dave Mendicino observed it is important to spread the word about positive initiatives such as this pilot program.
"There are so many things being done over the last 18 months," says Mendicino. "We didn't have a low-barrier shelter. The police task force dealing with mental health and addictions — all these things are coming together. We just need to get the good news about programs like this pilot, all working toward the same thing...The public needs to hear it."
The Nipissing District Mobile Nurse Practitioner Pilot is underway and will operate until March 31, 2022, and will include an evaluation of the impact on vulnerable populations of accessible primary care — as well as any measured reduction on emergency services resources in the district before a decision is made on its future viability.