Public Release: 

Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center Community Service Program Targets West Side Children in Homeless Families

Rush University Medical Center

A community service program that targets the health care needs of homeless families in Chicago received a shot in the arm recently when the Chicago-based John R. Houlsby Foundation awarded the Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center's Kids-SHIP program a grant to expand the fledgling program.

In Kids-SHIP, which stands for Kids Shelter Health Improvement Project, Rush pediatricians make house calls to area homeless and women's shelters to provide health care to the shelter's clients. The program grew out of a vision that Rush pediatric psychologist Jeannie Aschkenasy, PhD, had in 1987 when she read about a man collecting spare change for a group called Common Cents.

"He said that homeless people are like pennies, that no one notices them anymore," Aschkenasy said. With Rush' Kids-SHIP program, those pennies are turning into possibilities for homeless families in Rush's neighborhood. The path leading to the current state of the program took some planning and research first. Before the clinic opened, Dr. Aschkenasy, along with Dr. Beth Volin, director of the Rush Pediatric Primary Care Clinic and Clinical Coordinator Michelle Camburn, completed a medical-needs assessment, contacting shelters that help women and children to find out what health care services homeless children need. That initial research was funded by a Community Access to Child Health (CATCH) grant from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"The assessment was a Field of Dreams test," said Aschkenasy. "We wanted to know if we built it, would they come?" Since the program began in July of 1998, they have come. The program started as effort to treat children who visited the Rush Pediatric Primary Care Clinic. Now, thanks to the additional funds from HUD in conjunction with the Chicago Department of Human Services and an additional grant from Houlsby, Kids-SHIP is an outreach program staffed by two Rush pediatricians who visit as many as 10 Chicago shelters on a regular basis.

"The trick is to get kids to come here and we can't do that effectively unless we reach out to where they are," said Volin. She indicated that the Rush pediatricians see an inordinately high number of children with asthma, tuberculosis, lead poisoning, and developmental and educational problems. On their first visit, children receive a thorough, three-hour consultation and exam from a licensed social worker Colleen Flynn psychologist Aschkenasy, pediatric nurse Regina Taylor, and Dr. Volin herself. "Once we get them into our clinic, we often treat the teenage parent too or we refer adult parents to appropriate physician," Dr. Volin said, adding that Kids-SHIP families receive care from top Rush specialists.

"With homeless families, medical services are often not enough," said Brady Harden, president of The Inner Voice, Inc., a non-profit agency that runs many Chicago homeless shelters that work with the Kids-SHIP program. "The psychological, social work, transportation and child care services provide by Kids-SHIP, in addition to the medical services, are innovative."

Dr. Aschkenasy's goal is to grow the Kids-SHIP program enough to branch out further into the city, reaching more needy children in the future.

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Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center includes the 809-bed Presbyterian-St. Luke's Hospital; 154-bed Johnston R. Bowman Health Center for the Elderly; Rush University (Rush Medical College, College of Nursing, College of Health Sciences and Graduate College); and seven Rush Institutes providing diagnosis, treatment and research into leading health problems. The medical center is the tertiary hub of the Rush System for Health, a comprehensive healthcare system capable of serving about three million people through its outpatient facilities and seven member hospitals.

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