Lawmakers address barriers faced by homeless youth seeking medical care

By: - March 18, 2021 7:19 am

“We want Nevadans, including eligible immigrant populations, to know that applying for needed health insurance from Medicaid will not impact immigration status,” said Nevada Medicaid Administrator Suzanne Bierman.(Photo by Roger Brown from Pexels)

(Photo by Roger Brown from Pexels)

Tayvon Jenkins, a youth ambassador with the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, said minors experiencing homelessness were turned away from Covid testing during the health pandemic. 

It’s not the only example lawmakers were given Wednesday about how Nevada law puts barriers in front of youth seeking health care. 

Pamela Girgis, a pediatric nurse practitioner who works with homeless youth and refugee children, says many of the children she encounters are unable to fully access health care due to the state’s restrictions. 

“We recently had a homeless youth with uncontrolled diabetes in desperate need of a referral to endocrinology for an insulin pump,” she said. “Because of this rule, care was delayed, which resulted in multiple hospitalization for this youth risking his life and resulting in him missing work and losing his job setting him further back.”

Arash Ghafoori, the executive director for the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, said the state’s current law only allows medical providers to serve unaccompanied youth once they’ve been homeless for four months, and puts limits on what medical professionals can provide help. 

“Many of the providers who are available to provide care to our young people include nurses and nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants, dental hygienists, and other licensed professionals aren’t clearly covered under the existing law,” he said. 

Assembly Bill 197, heard during the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee, seeks to clarify current law and remove the four-month wait period.

The bill would allow the director of a nonprofit working with the youth, a school social worker or an attorney working with the minor to submit a statement to a medical provider affirming “the minor is living separately from his or her parents or legal guardian.” 

The proposal also expands the type of health care provided to include behavioral, mental health and dental. 

“This bill really has the ability to save lives,” said Democratic Assemblyman Howard Watts, who sponsored AB 197. 

Nevada has one of the highest rates of youth experiencing homelessness, Ghafoori said. On any given night an estimated 312 youth under 18 are sleeping on the streets or in shelters. 

Homelessness can exacerbate, if not cause, health issues.

“Due to the difficulties and complications of living on the streets or in shelters, histories of trauma and limited access to resources, homeless young people experience higher rates of illness and injury, including malnutrition, dental disease, respiratory and infectious diseases, STI’s, pregnancy, substance abuse, and increased future risk of diabetes and heart disease,” he said. 

Jenkins, who began experiencing homelessness off and on starting at 12, has dealt with asthma his entire life.

He hasn’t always been able to obtain treatment. 

“Due to not always having the ability to obtain my mom’s consent, there have been times when I haven’t been able to see a doctor or get my inhaler, which is a scary and dangerous situation,” he said. 

Republican Assemblywoman Robin Titus, a doctor, recalled a time the state’s law restricted her ability to provide medical care. 

“I’ve been in the emergency room when a minor came in and I was the ER doctor, and I couldn’t take care of them unless it was a life-threatening condition,” Titus said. “I could not take care of that person until they contacted a parent so they literally sat there for hours.”

By lifting restrictions, Ghafoori said the proposal would not only help youth who have current health needs but potentially save Nevada millions of dollars in future health costs by preventing long-term and chronic health issues from developing. 

“Now more than ever, AB 197 is a simple and smart step to support vulnerable young people on their journeys beyond the streets to healthy and sustainable adulthoods,” he said.

The bill didn’t receive any opposition. 

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.