IMPACT

Health Care Hero For The Jobless And Homeless

Jan 20, 2011 | Updated May 25, 2011

Violette Selzer retired from nursing when she was 66 -- her retirement lasted 6 months.

"I was bored!" she exclaimed.

So she called up her friend and fellow nurse, Connie Wilson, and asked for a job.

Fourteen years later, at the ripe young age of 80, Violette, Vi to her friends and colleagues, is the Director of Mental Health and Recovery Services at the Health Resource Center of Cincinnati, Inc.

Connie, opened the Health Resource Center in 1995 to provide mental and physical health care to the poor and homeless population of Cincinnati, Ohio. For this group, accessing mental health care is a constant challenge --a challenge only made more difficult by the recent recession.

"It's hard to get people on Medicaid, especially young black and white men who are of working age, even if they have a diagnosed psychiatric condition. Some clinics don't see uninsured patients. Some places have stipulations about showing up every thirty days, but if you're homeless and you live on a bench or under a bridge, it's hard to keep track of time," she said.

Before working at the Resource Center, Vi and Connie worked as nurses at Psychiatric Emergency Service at University Hospital where they would see people who had been turned down for treatment at other clinics.

"The whole staff would get very upset at the injustice of it," she said.

The Health Resource Center strives to meet the needs of this population by providing access to free health services. The center depends on federal and city funding as well as private donations, and treats approximately 50 patients a week, about half of whom have no insurance at all.

Like many nonprofits, The Resource Center suffered setbacks during the financial crisis. The organization had to stop providing physical treatment -- focusing only on psychological care --and move their offices. Despite plans for expansion, they were forced into a smaller space where they now share administrative costs with another organization.

"It was traumatic for us, but we're making it back on our feet again," Vi said.

In light of her work with those lacking jobs and health benefits, Vi views yesterday's Congressional vote to repeal the health care law with disdain. For her, the move demonstrates how out of touch many politicians are with her daily reality.

"If someone is homeless long enough, they become depressed and need care. Just think how it would feel if you had to live in your car for six months and had to find a place to shower all the time, change your clothes. There are people doing that right now. Especially in this economy," she said.

Vi has seen a wide range of results from her work over the years. Some clients have committed suicide while others have gone on to get jobs and build productive lives, but Vi continues to be inspired by those she serves and is driven to continue working into her 80s.

"This man was a heroine and alcohol addict and we put him on medication and it turned his whole mind around. He changed from this sour looking man to actually having a smile on his face. He's had a great turnaround and he comes to see us once a month because he says we're like a 'touch stone here.' We remind him of how far he's come."

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