THE PATHWAYS TO HEALTH CARE-A-VAN assists underserved neighborhoods in Albany, Rensselaer and Columbia counties and St. Catherine’s Center for Children recently received a $500,000 grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation to continue the outreach, which includes providing emergency items such as food and gloves as well as health-care services. (Franchesca Caputo photos)
THE PATHWAYS TO HEALTH CARE-A-VAN assists underserved neighborhoods in Albany, Rensselaer and Columbia counties and St. Catherine’s Center for Children recently received a $500,000 grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation to continue the outreach, which includes providing emergency items such as food and gloves as well as health-care services. (Franchesca Caputo photos)
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On a typical spring day in Albany, gray skies and relentless wind set the tone. Brian Bell, director of community relations for St. Catherine’s Center for Children, stands in the parking lot across from the Capital City Rescue Mission and is ready for the day to begin.

A few minutes later, Pathways to Health Supervisor Dave Healy rolls up to the parking lot in St. Catherine’s Care-A-Van. A quote on one side reads “Serving adults, children and families.” The well-stocked van makes its rounds about twice a month to Albany’s most underserved neighborhoods, but according to Healy, as COVID restrictions loosen, the plans are to increase van stops to a few times per week.

Healy first unloads a folding table, then begins placing on top of it reusable and plastic water bottles, an assortment of snacks — Oreos, pretzels, chips and cereal — and a seemingly infinite amount of socks, some furry, many colorful, some basic white and sturdy. Alongside a box of masks, he places two large hand-sanitizer bottles, and small fabric pouches containing essentials such as toothpaste, a toothbrush, tissues, travel-size deodorant and hand sanitizer. Inside the van there are winter jackets, gloves, cans of food, boxes of pasta, peanut butter, cleaning items and a range of toiletries, including toilet paper, toothpaste and deodorant.

It doesn’t take long before people start to show up.

The Mother Cabrini Health Foundation recently awarded St. Catherine’s Center for Children’s Pathways to Health program a $500,000 grant to continue its work as an outreach service for the homeless and those at-risk of becoming homeless in Albany, Rensselaer and Columbia counties. The grant money largely supports the program’s Care-A-Van as the program goes into its second year of outreach service on a mobile level. In 2020, the program received $360,000 from the Cabrini Foundation to start the outreach.

The program is an extension of St. Catherine’s Center for Children — an organization well known for providing service programs addressing homelessness, child abuse, neglect, family instability and special education to hundreds of children and families. While the van provides emergency items, the overarching goal is to provide others with health-care services. According to Healy, many people aren’t connected to services, while others have trouble navigating the resources they have access to.

“We had one guy come and say, ‘How do I get an insurance card?’ It could be something as simple as that,” Healy said, “You and I know you could just call a social service number, but people just don’t have that skill set.”

Just as often as the team connects those in need with services, they educate them on what services are out there and when it’s appropriate to utilize them.

 “We try to tell people to stay away from ER’s — people go there because they have a cold — ‘Oh, I have to go to the ER because I don’t have a doctor’ — and that’s going to drive up Medicaid costs,” Healy said.

Connecting those in need with a primary doctor also helps them establish a health history, leading to more personalized care over time.

The van also is equipped with a hotspot for Wi-Fi, making telehealth — the distribution of health-related services and information virtually — a possibility. By using telehealth, clients can be connected to a doctor within 10 minutes to be examined virtually and prescribed medication as needed.

The program also provides those in need with prescription pick-ups, which involves delivering prescriptions to clients and oftentimes fronting the cost of the copay. 

Pathways to Health is connected with the Albany County Department of Social Services, Albany County Department of Mental Health, Albany Medical Center, St. Peter’s Hospital, Albany Memorial Hospital and Whitney M. Young Clinics, and the Albany Police Department, which has been instrumental in identifying not only individuals, but communities where services are most in need. While the van often visits the parking lot across from the Capital City Rescue Mission, it also targets Washington Park, near a high traffic corner store on Madison Avenue and Grand Street, and directly outside of Pathways to Health’s office, located at 231 Sherman St., where foot traffic is high.

Case managers will not only help clients manage health-care issues, but will also address a clients’ Social Determinants of Health (SDOH), which includes housing, economic stability, education, and other social conditions that influence the health status of an individual or family.

For example, concerned neighbors called the Albany Police Department after seeing a man sleeping on a picnic table in subzero temperatures for weeks in January. Officer Joseph Acquaviva, Jr., reached out to St. Catherine’s Center for Children’s homeless services for help. When two Pathways to Health case managers, Sarah Ryan and Meghan Mahar, visited the park during the day, they discovered the man’s belongings and would find him later that evening. 

Pathways then picked up medication for the client, made an appointment for him with a primary-care doctor, and acquired a cell phone and housing for him within one week of meeting with case managers.

“He couldn’t pay the copay on some seizure medications and he had no money, no income, nothing on the side, literally nothing,” Healy said. “We picked it up for him, paid for it, made sure he got his medications.

“To take him from that, to being housed and paired with health care and everything else, it’s huge for him.”

According to Healy, when Pathways wrote the grant proposal last year, their goal was to reach 125 people, and make 95 of them active, connecting them to services such health care, housing, food insecurity and public assistance. In the end, they ended up reaching 254 people, while 146 remain active.

“We’re eager to incorporate the new program enhancements which a second year of Cabrini funding allows,” Healy added. “COVID-19 still remains a daily health concern, and these additional services ensure no one is left behind during these troubling times.”