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Partners for the homeless

Camillus Health Concern, Salvation Army team up to staff on-site clinic at shelter

From left: Wendy Arancivia, Rose Anderson and Dr. Christoph Sahar of Camillus Health Concern staff The Salvation Army's Health Resource Center, a primary care clinic serving clients at The Salvation Army Center of Hope emergency shelter in Miami.

Photographer: COURTESY

From left: Wendy Arancivia, Rose Anderson and Dr. Christoph Sahar of Camillus Health Concern staff The Salvation Army's Health Resource Center, a primary care clinic serving clients at The Salvation Army Center of Hope emergency shelter in Miami.

MIAMI | After serving two years as primary and ambulatory care medical director at Jackson Memorial Hospital, fourth generation family physician Dr. Christoph Sahar joined Camillus Health Concern and unknowingly came full circle: He was assigned to the Health Resource Center of The Salvation Army — the same nonprofit that had aided his family when they arrived in America seven decades earlier.

“I’m really excited about it. My father coming to this country from overseas in 1950, his whole family received support from Salvation Army when they got here. He was a big supporter,” Dr. Sahar said. “I was overjoyed to find out I’d be here. I didn’t even realize they had a partnership, felt all these things coming together.”

The primary care clinic is operated in partnership with Camillus Health Concern, Inc., an apostolate of the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God and the Catholic Church. Salvation Army and Camillus Health combine their expertise to expand their medical reach to Miami’s estimated 3,500 homeless.

Dr. Sahar, a New Jersey native who also holds a master’s degree in health care management from Harvard, has practiced medicine across the Northeast with half of his time spent at federally qualified health centers, learning Spanish on the job. Now at the Health Resource Center at the Salvation Army’s 254-bed emergency shelter, he strives to provide excellent medical care to those in need: Over 85 percent of clients are uninsured upon arrival.

“My passion is to try to render the best quality care to all people regardless of their needs and situation,” said Dr. Sahar, also chief medical innovations officer for the Massachusetts digital startup Cherish Health. “We try to give comprehensive help and refer to Camillus for more services that aren’t yet available here.”

The Health Resource Center, located at 1907 N.W. 38 St., serves shelter clients who come through the Homeless Trust or as walk-ins. Previously, the Salvation Army struggled to arrange for doctors to visit the shelter on reliable schedules and ended up referring many to nearby emergency rooms. Through a Health Foundation of South Florida grant, it opened the on-site clinic in 2018. By 2020 the shelter reported a 65% decrease in ER referrals; in 2021, HRC logged 860 visits and made only nine ER referrals.

“The HRC collaboration with Camillus Health has been critical these last 17 months as we have been in the pandemic. Having them as a partner to provide testing, to help with vaccinations, and to provide onsite care to keep our clients healthy and out of the emergency room has helped our shelter operations immensely,” said Johanna Wint, executive director of the Salvation Army Center of Hope in Miami-Dade County. “In normal times, this would be incredible, but during the pandemic it has truly been amazing. I am beyond grateful for this partnership and look forward to expanding it.” 

At the Health Resource Center, clients have immediate access for wellness and sick-visits, tuberculosis screening and management of chronic disease like diabetes, hypertension and asthma. They are referred to Camillus Health Concern as needed for dental, behavioral and specialist care. The clinic, currently open Wednesdays from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. and Mondays and Fridays from 8 a.m.-noon, is still able to do daily COVID screening with Sofia SARS antigen testing. And staff are working to increase vaccinations of clients, available through Camillus.

One 20-year-old former foster care youth named Samuel found immediate relief from life on the streets when he showed up in August at the shelter. The medical staff guided him to eat better to lower his blood pressure and elevated blood sugar and get off medication for it. He lost over 30 pounds. They also prescribed his bipolar medication and helped him connect with a Camillus Health psychiatrist quickly — he had been on a wait list for his previous provider.

“I’m using this as a stepping-stone and a support for getting out of homelessness,” he said before being discharged from the shelter. “I’m feeling better, waking up better, mood is better. A prescription for melatonin helps me sleep. Mental health and physical health go together.”

Rose Anderson, a veteran nurse practitioner with family and psychiatric specializations who has worked for over 25 years with Camillus Health, has helped staff the Health Resource Center since its opening.

“Homeless people have a lot more health problems than the regular population. Treating them in a primary care situation is far better for patients to keep their diabetes, high blood pressure under control, to save them from risk factors. And it saves a lot of money in the ER,” Anderson said. “They either don’t have any health care or have a lapse in Medicaid and can’t get out to get health care. We’ll take over primary care, which includes labs and medication.”

The Health Resource Center serves as a bridge to connect clients with previous providers or direct them to long-term care at Camillus Health Concern, which treats patients without regard to ability to pay.

Dr. Sahar cited the barriers faced by people who are homeless or in shelters. “There are so many unmet needs,” he said. “For those people who have often been without care for a long period of time, the way that Camillus sees its mission is in direct alignment with what Salvation Army is doing.”

The two Miami nonprofits also share a common Gospel mission: to care for the most vulnerable with compassion and respect.

“I believe that we are here to see the light in every person we encounter and to also be that light that they need in their times of difficulty,” said Dr. Sahar.