Celebrating America’s Health Care for the Homeless Centers: How Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless is working to address the root causes of homelessness in their community

Health Care for the Homeless Day Podcast – Q&A with Anita Cordova | Music: www.bensound.com

This year we are celebrating all of the innovative ways health centers create better lives for their communities. Today we are highlighting Health Care for the Homeless Centers including the more than 1.1 million patients health center serve who experience homelessness. Today we will hear from Anita Cordova, Director of Development, Planning & Evaluation at Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless (AHCH) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Q&A with Anita Cordova CórdovaA 2 

Tell us a bit about yourself and Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless.

I am honored to have the exciting role of Director of Development, Planning and Evaluation. I have been with AHCH for more than 10 years now. I have a master’s degree in Forensic psychology and nearly 15 years’ experience in program development, fundraising, and nonprofit leadership. In my role, I have the joy of working with both external partners, funders, and donors as well as internal staff and programs. I am tasked with identifying and developing programs that align with evidence-based practices and that are achievable in our current environment. I then work to tell the donors and funders what we need the money for and in the end report back out to people how well we did. It is an exciting process that keeps my plate full.

I am born and raised in New Mexico, a state with high levels of poverty, a historic exclusion from health care (with the exception of the access health centers provide), and low health literacy rates. The overall result is chronic conditions that are not diagnosed until much too late and an overall reliance on emergency responses to health needs “when it hurts.” Low access to health care and the resulting health complications impacts the community’s ability to participate in education, employment, and other opportunities that increase quality of life. For these reasons and many more, I am a personal and organizational advocate for access to health care and social justice for communities historically left out of the health care system.

Tell us about the work AHCH does to address homelessness in your community. 

ahch 30 year logo2 (3) (002)_Page_1AHCH works across our community with more than 15 partner organizations including two health center peers to address the root causes of homelessness. AHCH is a catalyst in the community – participating in community-wide advocacy efforts to create more affordable housing, wage theft, and adequate pay initiatives. We are also advocates for access to health care coverage, speaking out for Medicaid expansion in New Mexico. AHCH also participates in county-wide performance improvement efforts including screening for, tracking, and addressing the social determinants of health and sharing data so that all of the community’s information is included. One example of this effort to collect better information on the social determinants of health is AHCH’s initiative to encourage all nonprofit organizations, hospitals, and indigent care providers to collect housing status. The collection of this information is an essential effort in identifying the needs of people experiencing homelessness in the community. Another powerful effort has been AHCH’s role in the local initiative to “Turn the Curve on Opiate Overdoses”. A number of AHCH leadership and providers have participated in this effort, advocating for easier access to medication-assisted treatment and for eliminating prior authorizations and treatment in jail. AHCH’s goal is that, through these efforts we can help to reduce the harm caused by opioid addiction for those individuals who are most likely to die from the disease and least likely to access treatment. AHCH is positioning itself through strategic planning to do even more to address homelessness in our community.

HRO van2What program or service are you most proud of at AHCH?

I am most proud of AHCH’s person-centered health care model and culture of advocating for social justice that is woven throughout all programs and services. AHCH consistently prioritizes outreach to the communities that need our services the most; meeting people where they are and accompanying them on a path to better health; developing tangible formal collaborations in the community; and always working to change the world through advocating for policies that work to end homelessness.

Can you tell us about a specific experience you’ve had that has highlighted the value of AHCH to the community?

Last September AHCH opened an expanded Resource Center. The opening ceremony of this 8,600 square foot building, designed to address the social service needs of people experiencing homelessness, became a massively-attended community celebration. Attendees included local politicians, partners, funders, donors, clients, staff, neighbors, and many individuals who have worked for, with, or alongside AHCH to address the root causes of homelessness. The success of this opening celebration, and the fact that so many individuals were eager to secure a seat at the event, is the result of decades of relationships building within the community and of providing free, quality health care to people experiencing homelessness while simultaneously fighting for living wages, affordable housing, and social justice. Clients themselves were the first in line to officially cut the ribbon because they have witnessed first-hand the importance of health care for the homeless in their lives. Learn more about the event here here.

What makes health care for the homeless centers so valuable to the communities they serve?

AHCHBuilding-106AHCH has long led the way in addressing the social determinants of health in a person-centered way with wrap-around holistic services. In fact, when the push for health centers to achieve Patient-Centered Medical Home status began, AHCH was thrilled to achieve this national recognition. In order to prove our PCMH status, AHCH used Opiate Addiction, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Diabetes instead of using all traditional chronic care conditions to achieve this recognition. Addressing people’s homelessness, uninsured status, behavioral health illnesses, oral health disparities, and substance use disorders in accordance with our client-driven service goals is what enables AHCH to achieve greater health outcomes within the population of people experiencing homelessness. While AHCH provides a comprehensive health campus for people to access care, including an open “art as therapy” studio for artists without resources and people seeking respite from the stress and dangers of the street, it is AHCH’s push to take care out of the clinic and into the streets, shelters, meal-sites, and other locations where people experiencing homelessness congregate that makes AHCH so valuable to the people who seek our services.

Why are you an advocate for AHCH and all other health centers?

The question for us, is why isn’t everyone an advocate for Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless and all health centers? Being an advocate for health care for all is our mission. Our vision is to live in a world that is just and without homelessness. Homelessness can develop quickly – often a lack of affordable housing, a lack of a living wage, limited access to health care, and gender-based violence can combine to create a perfect storm – the rapid transition to homelessness and the accompanying grave loss of overall health and wellbeing.

Ending homelessness is our movement, it’s in the air we breathe, the fight we fight as an HCH.  The aim is justice not charity.  Health care and housing are human rights and we won’t quit until everyone has access to these fundamental rights.

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