In 2008, Maria was working 50 hours a week managing a small restaurant. She owned her own home. She even had her health. Then one morning when she was getting ready for work, her left arm went numb, shortly followed by her left leg. When she woke up in the hospital, Maria learned she had a stroke that was most likely caused by undiagnosed high blood pressure, complicated by diabetes. She was unable to work. In less than four months, her house was gone. She and her 13-year-old daughter, Alyssa, were living on friends’ couches; well on their way to being homeless just as the holiday season was approaching.
For the next five months, Maria lived in a motel room in Cambridge with Alyssa. Maria accompanied Alyssa to and from school every day. When they returned home, there was very little privacy and no quiet place for Alyssa to study.
With determination and therapy, Maria recovered well from the stroke though she walked with a cane and a slight limp.
In early February of 2009, Julie, a Family Team nurse with Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, was making her weekly rounds at the motel. She found that Maria’s blood pressure and sugar were high – a serious medical issue when you’ve already had a stroke. Because Maria and Alyssa only had a tiny refrigerator and no stove or oven to prepare home-cooked meals, they often relied on prepared foods with heavy amounts of salt and sugar.
“I don’t want you to have another stroke, Maria. I may send you to the hospital to get your blood pressure regulated,” Julie said.
Julie called Maria’s primary care physician and scheduled a visit for later that day. Maria’s doctor reviewed her blood pressure history and prescribed her a medication. The doctor monitored Maria’s condition more closely, under Julie’s watchful eye. Her blood pressure stabilized and, thankfully, a hospital stay was not necessary.
Though it was originally a hard message to hear, Julie’s firm and caring determination gave structure and hope to this mother and daughter who had been thrown mercilessly into the chaotic world of homelessness.
Crisis intervention is one of the many things that Family Team nurses and case managers from Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program are prepared to do well.
They establish trust intuitively, identify medical needs quickly, and make necessary medical and mental health connections immediately, knowing that they are often a homeless parent’s only source of stability. The overarching goal of BHCHP’s Family Team is to help stabilize homeless families, providing parents and children with the medical and behavioral health support they need to cope with traumatic experiences and to develop as healthy people.