In another major U.S. city, health care officials at Boston Medical Center (BMC) braced for a surge of COVID-19 cases last spring. BMC leaders knew the local homeless population would be disproportionately affected by the virus, with no place to recuperate and quarantine.
An infusion of funding from AbbVie supported a creative solution: Temporarily reclaim BMC’s vacant East Newton Pavilion, which it sold to the state in 2018. Plans to transform the structure into a new psychiatric hospital were placed on hold, and instead BMC converted it into a recovery area carefully laid out for infection control, staffed with medical specialists and equipment, beds, furniture, food and drinks.
Time was of the essence to get the unit up and running, says Miriam Komaromy, MD, FACP, DFASAM, Medical Director at Boston Medical Center’s Grayken Center for Addiction and clinical lead for the pavilion. Just two weeks after gaining access to the pavilion, BMC opened the doors.
About 225 COVID-19 positive people without homes took respite there during an 8-week period. Not only were they able to recover from the virus, many were able to get treatment for existing substance abuse disorders and mental illness, with 80% of patients presenting clear evidence of mental illness, Komaromy says.
People stayed at the unit an average of 1 week; while all came in without a home, about one-quarter left with a stable place to stay, Komaromy says, made possible by the hard work of volunteer case managers who found long-term treatment options or family and friends to take their loved one in.
BMC medical and support staff donated time on top of their regular responsibilities to take on shifts at the pavilion, motivated by a grateful group of patients, Komaromy says.
“We heard from them again and again how grateful they were to have a place to stay, that they wouldn’t be infecting other people,” she says. “This generosity of heart was really touching to hear.”