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AmeriHealth Caritas provides resources to Emmaus guests


by LIZ ALLEN, Staff Writer


Guy and Sierra boarded the mobile wellness center operated by AmeriHealth Caritas Pennsylvania, parked outside Emmaus Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry, to learn about heart health.


Guy, 56, has already suffered from two mild heart attacks – the first at age 32, another at age 36. Sierra, 30, wanted to make sure that Guy takes steps to prevent more heart problems.


The two depend on each other to figure out how to get by in Erie, where there most recent sleeping place was “under the great sky,” near the railroad tracks, said Guy.


Guy is in severe pain from a broken rib, which he got from “carrying all my property around.”


Opening his shirt to point to his broken rib, he also exposes scars that crisscross his body, from gunfire and self-inflicted cuts. With $20, he said, he could buy some medical tape to treat the cracked bone.


Guy appreciated “learning about the symptoms for heart attack and stroke” from Renee Johnstonbaugh, Wellness Center Administrator for Community Outreach at AmeriHealth Caritas, a managed-care program for Medicaid. Her presentation “reinforced what I’ve already done about eating habits and exercise and sleeping right,” said Guy.


In addition to educating those who visit the mobile wellness center about warning signs for heart

attacks and strokes, Renee also offered sessions on diabetes and provided tips on healthy habits to prevent chronic health issues or reduce their severity.


“Ways to get you moving at HOME!” is the title of one handout, which advises that “cooking, cleaning, stretching, dancing and just having fun” are among the ways to exercise, relax and lift spirits. Another educational flyer for heart health recommends stopping or cutting back on smoking; limiting alcohol; adding more vegetables, fruits and grains to your diet; and decreasing stress.


Most of those recommendations are difficult to follow if you are unhoused, or even if you have a home but live in poverty.


Emmaus Ministries strives to address some of those needs, using the guidance of Sister Mary Miller, who made a list of 10 things she had learned during her 42 years as Director of Emmaus before her death in May.


Dinner at the soup kitchen offers guest respite from the harsh conditions in the outside world. Diners eat in a community setting with “flowers on the tables, curtains on the windows and good art on the walls,” per Sister Mary’s instructions. Meals at this time of year incorporate as much fresh produce as possible from Emmaus Grove, which also supplies vegetables for Emmaus Food Pantry.


Guy said he and Sierra “love” eating at the Soup Kitchen. “If it weren’t for them, we’d starve,” he said.


He has spent much of his adult life in prison, in North Carolina, in Florida and, most recently, in

Pennsylvania. But without a support system when he was released, he found himself living on the street with all of the stress that entails. Guy and Sierra, who is from New York State, worry that the possessions they haul between city parks and homeless encampments will be stolen if they stop to rest their blistered feet.


Strangers glare at them or, worse yet, look right through them, as though they don’t exist. “They stare at you like you’re below them, beneath them, like a parasite on their public walkways,” Guy said.


Guy has been doing his best to cope with life after prison. “I’m not drinking during the day,” he said.

“I’m changing my life, adjusting my life. I want to get the hell out of this life.”


But as he puts in that effort, there’s a more immediate concern. Another guest from Emmaus has

offered to let Guy and Sierra sleep on an open-air porch. Guy needs to find a special type of plastic to tack up, to keep them warm on chilly autumn nights. Winter, he said, is another matter.



Photos:

Guy and Sierra outside Emmaus Soup Kitchen

Renee Johnstonbaugh, Wellness Center Administrator for Community Outreach at AmeriHealth Caritas, on the mobile health care bus used to travel to different sites


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