Program Gives Area Homeless Free Health Care

By: Estephany Escobar Email
By: Estephany Escobar Email

A program is helping homeless people receive free health care at area shelters.

James Madison University's Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services and the Harrisonburg Community Health Center started 'Suitcase Clinics' in 2011.

The program's nurse practitioner, Tara Haley, said the program started because healthcare options for the homeless are limited.

"Without payment out of pocket, there are very few options for this particular population without any income coming in. There are really no great ones beside the emergency room," said Haley.

She said most of the homeless people have chronic illnesses, which are not meant to be treated at the E.R.

"Most of the people that we see not only have medical diagnosis but can also have a mental diagnosis as well," said Haley.

Linda Cunningham who lives at the shelter has benefited from Haley's medical attention.

"She's like an angel, she tries to help you as much as she can," said Cunningham.

She said the frequent medical attention has helped her with her health needs.

"Since she has been coming here I don't get sick as often and I have been keeping my sugar intake under control," said Cunningham.

She said it's a relief to receive help because she can't afford to pay for medical costs.

"That way I don't have to try to come up with money to pay for my medicine and my bill like I did before she came," said Cunningham.

Through the program, patients receive free medication and dental healthcare.

Haley said they would help patients start mental healthcare treatment and then they refer them to a specialist.

In addition, Haley said there is need for more funding as the need increases. She said they are in need of oral surgeons, ear, nose and throat doctors. If any of them want to do pro Bono work, they can contact Jane Hubbel at

She said there are professional engagement partnership opportunities.

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