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Schweitzer Fellow Extends Reach to Boston’s Homeless from Chris Lovett on Vimeo.

Naira Arellano is working to prevent Spanish-speaking homeless individuals in Boston from falling through the cracks.

As one of this year’s 15 Boston Schweitzer Fellows, the MGH Institute of Health Professions School of Nursing student is serving as a bilingual patient advocate at the Barbara McInnis House, the medical respite facility of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP).

Per BHCHP’s website, McInnis House serves homeless patients who “are far too sick for life in shelters but not sick enough to occupy a costly acute care hospital bed.” Whether they’re undergoing chemotherapy, recovering from burns or broken bones, or recuperating after a stroke, McInnis House patients are simultaneously dealing with homelessness and navigating the road to health.

For those patients who speak only Spanish, successfully navigating that road is even more difficult. That’s why, as Arellano told BNN TV’s Neighborhood Network News on Friday, her Schweitzer project is multifaceted: “As an advocate, I am there to provide an extra ounce of support,” she says. “That encompasses many different things, from providing a space for people to talk in their native language; to working with providers and patients about dietary restrictions or food choices for someone who’s diabetic or struggling with heart failure; or perhaps working with the case managers who are helping patients apply for benefits and housing to fill out forms.”

Arellano’s motivation is deep-rooted.

“Twelve years ago, my mother was recruited to teach Spanish in a public high school in North Carolina,” Arellano says. “After arriving from Ecuador, my family’s first interactions with the U.S. health care system were marked by confusion and dissatisfaction, and I became aware of the crucial role that language plays in immigrant health. I have made it my mission as a Schweitzer Fellow to help homeless Spanish-speaking patients here in Boston start to overcome those barriers.”

The line of Schweitzer Fellows who have carried out their service projects in partnership with BHCHP stretches back 20 years — and on Friday, November 2, we’ll be honoring BHCHP’s founder and president, Dr. James (Jim) O’Connell, with the 2012 Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism in conjunction with the Schweitzer Leadership Conference. (Conference registration is open to the general public; the prize ceremony is open to all Schweitzer Fellows and Fellows for Life, as well as to members of the general public by invitation.)

“Dr. O’Connell is an amazing doctor and role model who started this all more than 20 years ago,” Arellano tells Neighborhood Network News. “He’s a pioneer in providing the highest quality of health care for men, women, and children who are homeless.”

Click here to learn more about the U.S. Schweitzer Fellows Program and our work to create change and improve health in vulnerable communities. We are supported entirely by charitable donations and grants.

Click here to learn more about this year’s Schweitzer Leadership Conference and Prize for Humanitarianism ceremony.