Champion to Homeless Women and Children: Dr. Roseanna Means

April 20, 2010

From 2009 – 2011, Our Bodies Ourselves honored the work of women’s health advocates worldwide by asking readers to nominate their favorite women’s health hero. View all nominees by year: 2009, 2010, 2011

Entrant: Meghan Ward

Nominee: Dr. Roseanna Means

Imagine having no roof over your head during the frigid winters. Imagine the pain and panic of not knowing where your next meal is coming from. Imagine getting sick, but with no health insurance or personal physician, having absolutely no where to turn for help.

These are issues that nearly all homeless women face at some point during their lives. However, one Boston-area physician and her dedicated staff of volunteer doctors and nurses are helping to dramatically change the health and well-being of homeless women in and around the Boston area for the better.

I nominate Dr. Roseanne Means as a Women’s Health Hero for the 2010 Our Bodies, Ourselves Women’s Health Hero Awards, as her dedication to poor and homeless women in and around Boston is truly admirable.

Dr. Roseanna Means, a Boston-area internist, has taken a special interest in the health and well-being of the city’s most vulnerable population: homeless women. Women of Means, first established in 1999, is a non-profit organization that serves the health needs of homeless women and children. Founded by Dr. Means, Women of Means operates under the notion that homeless women should not have to sacrifice basic needs to receive quality healthcare.

The organization works to improve immediate access to healthcare for Massachusetts’s poorest women and children and provide medical supplies and services to health care professionals and shelter staff treating homeless and poor women. Women of Means shares its alternative model of care with other medical professionals and advocates for women at clinical, social justice, academic and health policy levels.

Women of Means addresses and serves not only the physical needs of poor and homeless women, but the emotional and mental needs as well. Homeless women often face a barrage of physical, emotional and psychological challenges in regards to their overall health and well-being. This includes but is not limited to stress, depression, anxiety, loneliness, drug and alcohol problems, lack of education, mental illness and feelings of guilt and shame — as well as myriad physical health ailments that come from lack of care, proper nutrition and harsh living conditions.

Furthermore, poor and homeless women face tremendous difficulties that so many of us take for granted, such as how to physically get themselves to a doctor, especially if they have no means or money for transportation. Dr. Means suggests that sacrificing scarce money that could possibly be used for food or shelter is certainly often not an option for homeless women. This is why Dr. Means and her staff personally visit shelters where many homeless women stay. The guilt and shame that often accompanies homelessness hinders women from seeking medical care or maintaining chronic illnesses or conditions, and by visiting them personally, many women receive care and companionship that they would otherwise go without.

Dr. Means and her dedicated staff truly respect and advocate for poor and homeless women, and are proof that despite times of economic hardship, one person can truly make a difference. Her dedication to providing quality healthcare to women who often go unrecognized by others is remarkable and worthy of recognition. I nominate Dr. Means on behalf of homeless women everywhere.

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Dr. Means was nominated twice. The second nomination is below.

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Entrant: Liza D. Molina ScD,MPH

Nominee: Roseanna Means, MD, Founding Director of Women of Means Inc.

It is with profound honor, that I nominate Dr.Roseanna Means MD, founder of Women of Means (WOM) Inc. WOM was founded in 1999 and Incorporated as a non-profit in 2000, with the single mission of providing access to free and compassionate health care to homeless and battered women and their children.

During the decade before establishing WOM, Dr. Means served as the Medical Director for Health Care for the Homeless. In that capacity, Dr. Means quickly observed that women were disproportionably less likely then their male counterparts to take advantage of clinical services. Her  female patients candidly cited avoiding using many of the same facilities frequented by homeless men for several reasons – the greatest being fear of using facilities to which men had free access – thus placing them at a higher risk of being located by their batterer and possibly violated. In addition, more culturally conservative women expressed a feeling of deep humiliation and shame on sharing clinical facilities and clinicians with men.

Realizing that women are more likely to suffer premature death as a consequence of homelessness, Dr. Means began providing free medical care to homeless women and their families in secure and familiar environments including safe houses, shelters, and drop-in centers.

She has since inspired hundreds of other clinicians to volunteer their services – growing what started as a singular heroic act of volunteerism into an organization which now consists of a team of rotating physicians,  nurses, medical, nursing, medical language interpreting students, interns and residents – all whom collectively over the past decade have provided a unique model of compassionate, patient-centered medical care to over 65,000 homeless, battered women and children.

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