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Phoenix nonprofit helps homeless get to medical appointments

(Griselda Zetino/KTAR News)

PHOENIX — Sylvestre Primous stopped seeing doctors for several months when he became homeless.

The 71-year-old Vietnam veteran couldn’t get to his medical appointments. It started affecting his health.

It was painful to walk, his stress levels were high and his diabetes was uncontrolled.

“Everything was mentally and physically wearing me down,” he said.

All that changed when he learned about Elaine, a nonprofit formed in February that drives homeless individuals to their medical appointments and helps them navigate the health care system.

The group takes him to his medical appointments several times a month, including to the VA Medical Center in Phoenix where he sees a counselor for his post traumatic stress disorder caused by his military service.

Vivienne Gellert formed Elaine after getting the idea as a premed student at Arizona State University. She said she noticed there was a gap in the numerous services being offered to people experiencing homelessness.

“We are hand holders,” she said. “We help people who are extremely vulnerable and don’t have the easiest time getting to appointments, scheduling appointments, getting prescriptions, refiling prescriptions and connecting to behavioral health services.”

The group has several drivers who pick up homeless individuals as they’re getting released from the hospital. They also drive them from shelters to doctor’s appointments and helps connect them to resources, including housing.

Gallert said the nonprofit is named after Elaine Herzberg, a homeless woman who was hit and killed by a self-driving Uber vehicle last year.

“We thought as an organization it was a great way and a really beautiful way to honor her memory and to remind us why we’re here every day,” she said.

Since launching in February, Elaine has served about 90 people. Many of them have gotten a ride to their medical appointments by Michelle Detrick, the transportation director for Elaine.

Detrick said she and Primous, both military veterans, have developed a close bond.

“His health was horrible when I first met him,” she said. “He was unable to take his pills, because he couldn’t get the pill bottles open.

“He was unable to prick his fingers because of his hands and the neuropathy.”

But a lot has changed since Detrick began helping Primous keep track of his medical appointments and medications.

“He’s up and moving more,” she said. “He’s becoming a little bit more self-sufficient and his health is — it’s not perfect but it’s real close.”

Primous said Elaine has gone above and beyond to help him get back on his feet.

Besides helping him navigate the health care system, the nonprofit also has helped him find housing and to care for his service dog, Cheech.

“I couldn’t ask for more, I’m blessed,” he said.

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