ITHACA, NY -- REACH Medical, a local practice, has emerged as a trusted resource for the Ithaca community, and Tompkins County in general, particularly for those who face insecure and unstable housing situations. Initial funding of $20,000 from the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) allowed for REACH Medical to provide weekly mobile COVID testing for a period of six months.
Earlier this month, Tompkins County Health Department received $40,000 from The Kresge Foundation as part of a rapid response funding campaign to support local health departments leading COVID-19 efforts.
The health department said it will use the money from the Kresge Foundation, along with initial funding to REACH from IURA, to supplement the mobile COVID-19 testing team for individuals experiencing homelessness or who are unstably housed.
The Kresge Foundation, a private foundation sourced in Michigan which contributes grant money for the arts, education, health, and other community services, provides the funding for the Health Department to effectively process testing samples from county sites.
“The Kresge award, as well as funding from local sources, is ensuring that the REACH team has what they need to conduct this testing as the COVID-19 pandemic continues,” said Frank Kruppa, the Tompkins County public health director.
“REACH Medical is an important partner and has strong relationships in our community,” Kruppa continues, “Their ability to set up a mobile testing team is important to connect with individuals who cannot easily access the mall sampling site and may be in need of other medical or mental health services. This mobile testing is possible because of REACH’s commitment to serving the community and Cayuga Health System’s continued and integral support.”
Mobile testing isn’t new in Tompkins County, as REACH has been working on it for months with the help of community partners. In April, the Park Foundation, a nonprofit foundation which focuses on providing grants in service of education, entertainment, and community service, approached REACH after the success of their original project. Park allowed for REACH to hire a full-time registered nurse and a community health worker, enabling them to provide general mobile healthcare to in-need residents.
“We converted our whole practice to telemedicine in late March,” explains REACH Medical’s Director of Finance and Strategy, Amy Gecan. “We started meeting with this group of community health workers that are represented by different organizations like Human Services Coalition and Family and Children's Services. They asked us to join and to have our outreach program become part of that because of the fact that we have the telemedicine capability and because we are trusted by that population as the provider of care.”
The Park Foundation then approached REACH Medical, clearly impressed with their ongoing healthcare services to the community, and committed to help REACH expand their work.
However, REACH would not have been able to treat those in the community who really needed it if it were not for the long-time work of those at Family and Children’s Services (FCS) and their collaboration with providers such as Second Wind and Salvation Army. REACH cites those at FCS, such as Natalya Cowilich, for the trust they have built with the at-risk community in the county for years.
“When I started conducting Outreach in the encampments with REACH Medical,” states Cowilich, “my goal was forming healthy connections and building that trust needed to be able to talk about those delicate parts of our lives and connect to compassionate, judgement-free care. Forging paths to healthcare requires trusting, therapeutic relationships to get to the heart of the healing. So, in the beginning, it was about the gentle introduction to this resource for folks. And, I am ultimately another vessel in the weaving of trust built by my colleagues and mentors who've been doing this work since before our collaboration with REACH.”
If the situation arises where a positive case is found within the local house-insecure and homeless community, the testing center works with REACH to find the positive individual. From there, it is up to the county to provide a space for the infected person to quarantine for the necessary amount of time.
“We’re working really closely with the county on the COVID testing aspect,” Gecan said. “When patients get swabbed, all of the tests go to the [Cayuga Medical Center] lab. But there’s a way for them to differentiate that those specimens came from REACH as opposed to some other testing site. So if a positive test comes up, the county will notify REACH if they’re not able to reach that individual because a lot of these people don’t have active cell phones or a way to stay in contact. In terms of the quarantine and isolation aspects, that’s left up to the county to manage so people are not actually staying in the encampment if they’re positive or symptomatic.”
Thankfully, REACH will continue to be able to provide their crucial services to those who need it most with the combined effort of the coalition. “It’s so much more than just what REACH has been able to do,” Gecan explains, “It’s an ongoing coalition, and they’re starting to actually put together a formal structure around how the outreach program works. COVID has helped bring these different agencies together for the community outreach work and to make it better coordinated. It’s really kind of a silver lining.”
For more information on REACH Medical’s work go to reachprojectinc.org.