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Homeless women face more obstacles

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Web extra: CNN Hero Roseanna Means
  • CNN Hero Roseanna Means gives homeless women in the Boston area free medical care
  • She says women have more health issues than men, and they're often victims of assault
  • Means: Preventive care can help these women cope and save costs to the health care system
  • Do you know a hero? Nominations are open for 2011 CNN Heroes

Boston (CNN) -- More than 2,000 women in Boston are homeless, but CNN Hero Roseanna Means is giving them something they can count on -- free, quality medical care.

Means is the founder of Women of Means, a nonprofit organization that sends volunteer doctors and nurses into homeless shelters in and around Boston. She recently spoke with CNN's Danielle Berger about the impact of her team's efforts. Below are excerpts from that interview.

Danielle Berger: Your program focuses on women. Why women, not men?

Roseanna Means: There are so many things that women have to deal with more so than men do -- reproductive years, and then mammograms, then menopause. A lot of women's health is preventive care, and if women lose out on those screening tests, their lives are in danger.

In the world of homelessness, there are lots of emotional issues, psychiatric issues, women who have been beaten up so many times they can't connect the dots. They don't have an address. They don't have a phone. They're all sitting in a shelter together, but they're not necessarily friends. There's not a common bond of, "We're all in this together." Everybody is struggling. Everybody's isolated. Everybody's miserable.

Berger: How does that affect how they access medical care?

Means: Their default position is, "I'm just going to wait until it's a crisis [and] I have to go to the emergency room." And so, what we're able to do by intervening -- in kind of a casual, compassionate, friendly and welcoming way -- is create a relationship so that when it comes time, I can say: "You know, I think you need to go to the hospital. And one of our people will go there and make sure you get there safely." And we'll write a note to make sure that the doctor on the other end knows what's going on.

Then they're not costing so much to the system. And everybody benefits. The cost of medical care now is going sky-high because people use emergency rooms inappropriately, or because they're waiting too long to deal with something that could've been dealt with through preventive care and better management.

Berger: How does Women of Means grow beyond Roseanna Means?

Means: We now have physicians who, five or six years ago, came through as students to learn about our program. And now, they've graduated. They've become doctors. And they remember what it was like to work in these shelters with us. And when we are looking to place a woman with a primary care doctor who understands what these women are living with, we can call up one of these former students and say: "Remember when you did your rotation at Rosie's Place (a Boston Shelter)? Well, we've got a woman here who really needs to have someone who knows her issues. And we'd like you to take her on." And they will. It's great.

See the full story on CNN Hero Roseanna Means:
Doctor fills health care gap for homeless women