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Harris Health System Receives National Recognition for Its Homeless Program

HOUSTON (Nov. 15, 2022) — Harris Health System recently received a silver badge award for Health Center Quality Leader from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), a division of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, for the system's Healthcare for the Homeless Program. The award marks the program's fourth national recognition in 2022 from the agency: Advancing Health Information Technology for Quality; COVID-19 Public Health Champion; and Patient Centered Medical Home.

“The great care we provide our homeless patients from primary to specialty care is remarkable," says Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, president and CEO, Harris Health. “These awards and recognitions are the result of the dedicated staff who work in mobile units and through our homeless shelter partners to ensure all patients receive the best primary care and essential well-being checks that keep them healthy members in our community."

Tracey Burdine, director, Healthcare for the Homeless Program, Harris Health, credits her team of providers, nurses and support staff for the achievements.

“Regardless of where a homeless individual may enter into our 'circle of care,' he or she will be able to connect to all the services that we provide within the homeless program and also within Harris Health," she says. “You can enter the circle through a dental visit where a staff member can find out that a patient is not receiving entitled Social Security benefits. Staff can then say, 'Let me connect you to one of our social workers.' While the social worker visits with the patient, she may find out that the patient hasn't had a physical in a while, so then the social worker makes a doctor's appointment with the medical provider."

​Burdine says the homeless program offers robust services in medicine, dental, mental health, substance use disorder and vision. Staff is committed to easily connect patients to “multiple services where we're able to address both their healthcare and social needs. That's our mission, and I guess that's why we're special," she adds. 

In 2021, Harris Health's homeless program provided care to about 5,000 unique patients:

  • ​87% Adults (18-64)
  • 74% Racial/ethnic minority
  • 15% Hispanic/Latino
  • 26% White
  • 59% Black/African American 

Harris Health's program is also helping patients manage their chronic diseases of hypertension, cardiovascular and diabetes. Additionally, the program offers preventive health screenings for cervical, breast and colorectal cancers, as well as, depression, HIV and obesity, and ways to quit smoking. 

“To serve the homeless community and work in this department is a wonderful experience. It's not just a job, it has to be your mission," Burdine says. “That said, my goal in life is to actually work myself out of a job. I likely won't see it in my lifetime, but I hope homelessness is eliminated forever." 

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awards are part of the agency's Community Health Quality Recognition program to highlight notable quality improvements in areas of access, quality, health equity, health information technology and COVID-19 public health emergency response. According to HRSA, 11% of programs receive Health Center Quality Leader; 11% receive COVID-19 Public Health Champion; 54% receive Advancing HIT for Quality; and 79% receive Patient Centered Medical Home.