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Harris Health System Receives National Award for Its Homeless Program

​Harris Health System’s Healthcare for the Homeless Program received a Quality Improvement Award from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for its success in improving various quality measures including increasing colorectal cancer screenings among Harris County’s homeless population.

This is the fourth straight year the homeless program has received the national recognition that includes a monetary award of $110,549. HRSA frequently recognizes successful programs nationwide for making significant healthcare improvements among medically vulnerable populations.

Since Harris Health began its efforts to increase colorectal cancer screenings, the program has seen screening rates climb from 19 percent in 2012 to 54 percent in 2017. Screenings for colorectal cancer (recommended for individuals ages 50-75) is a major goal of Healthy People 2020, a national guide by the Health and Human Services to improve the health of all Americans.

“We saw a need to address the low rates for this important cancer screening in our service,” says Nelson Gonzalez, DHA, MPH, grants project manager, Healthcare for the Homeless Program, Harris Health. “The colorectal cancer screening improvement initiative was developed using best practices learned and the initiative was piloted. After a successful trial, we expanded it with great success to all our homeless shelter clinics.”

Staff used targeted educational materials and reminders to emphasize the importance of screenings. From the research, several barriers and challenges among homeless patients were identified:
• Low rate of physicians available to homeless
• Lack of knowledge about colorectal cancer
• Embarrassment
• Fatalistic views about cancer
• Negative self-image because of lack of hygiene from being homeless

“This award validates and allows us to offer our homeless clients a continuity of care and services,” says Dr. Yasmeen Quadri, medical director, Healthcare for the Homeless Program, Harris Health, and associate professor, Family and Community Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine. “This monetary award gives our program stability and helps us add new tools to educate staff and providers on better ways to care for our patients.”

The money from the award will be used to strengthen the homeless program’s quality improvement activities. Harris Health’s program has a compliance and performance improvement committee that meets regularly to review quality measures and provide improvement recommendations. When results show positive outcomes, staff can quickly implement best practices at all 10 Harris Health-staffed homeless shelter clinics and the mobile medical and dental units.

Earlier this year, a poster presentation, “Improving Colorectal Cancer Screening in the Homeless Population,” was shown during the 2018 National Health Care for the Homeless Council Conference and Policy Symposium held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. HRSA made its announcement of award honorees during National Health Center Week and on National Health Care for the Homeless Day in August.