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Providing Mental Health Services to Homeless Populations Through Telemedicine

May 26, 2021

As the end of the COVID-19 pandemic draws near, doctors and researchers anticipate our community will face lingering health challenges well into the future – especially related to mental health.

While many of us have experienced heightened stress and anxiety over the past year, it has been particularly hard for the more than 4,000 people experiencing homelessness in Denver. Homelessness can have a lasting impact on a person’s health and well-being, including possible long-term or permanent trauma. The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded these problems. Working through the lingering mental health issues unhoused persons have experienced during the past year will take time and require innovative methods of care delivery.

To reach this vulnerable population, Denver Health’s Outpatient Behavioral Health Services team has partnered with a local homeless shelter and a generous donor to provide virtual behavioral health services within Denver’s homeless shelters. The team purchased electronic tablet devices that will be installed in the shelter, allowing for peer support services and for providers to safely and effectively offer evaluation, treatment, and ongoing care for trauma, mental health challenges, and substance misuse issues for people experiencing homelessness and living in shelters. This model will help to eliminate previous barriers to care, such as transportation costs to in-person appointments and limited access to phones or internet for virtual health care.

Anne Warhover, former board chair of the Denver Health & Hospital Authority, made a generous donation to the Denver Health Foundation, enabling Behavioral Health Services to offer this service to unhoused individuals in our community.

“I am grateful that we have Denver Health, such a high quality, mission driven mental health provider in our community, that can reach the people experiencing homelessness in Denver,” Anne said.

With the data from this pilot, Denver Health will develop policies and systems to create pathways for the program to expand to other shelters and homeless programs in the city. This expansion is central to Denver Health’s goal to provide care to everyone in the community, no matter their circumstances, now and in the future.

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