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Strong minds, happy hearts

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​Covenant House clients benefit from psychiatric care

Family nurse practitioner Melanie Pergiel, ANP, MSN, examines teens and young adults every day at Anchorage’s Covenant House, but most often their aches and pains are not visible.

Many of the homeless youth come from broken homes, have suffered incredible losses, have been abused, neglected – the list goes on. It’s why Covenant House exists – to offer refuge for youth ages 13 to 21 who have nowhere else to turn. What these young people need most, Pergiel says, is access to behavioral health care.

When Pergiel mentioned this to a fellow medical professional who works in mental health, it took just a few months before her wish was granted. A request was made to Providence Health & Services Alaska, and in February 2014 as part of the $58 million in community benefit funds, Covenant House received an on-site psychiatrist, trained in both pediatric and adult psychiatry, available to visit with clients each week.

“The hard part here is that there are all these services to help kids up to age 18, but we serve clients from age 13 to 21,” Pergiel says. “So a lot of our clients don’t get the help they need. When I found out that we were getting someone who had expertise in both age groups, I was so happy.”

Ronald Solberg, MD, comes to Covenant House for two hours, once a week, to see the most critical clients. He provides a sort of triage, seeing two to eight patients a week but generally averaging three or four. Really, he said, he could be there full time and still have more work to do; he estimates that 95 percent of Covenant House’s clients have some form of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“My heart is really in serving the homeless youth,” Dr. Solberg says, so when he was asked to contribute time each week to Covenant House, he readily agreed. Providence Health & Services Alaska covers his billable hours, and he continues to serve some of the most underprivileged population of Anchorage.

Dr. Solberg says many of the patients he sees through his inpatient work at the hospital are often the same Covenant House clients – and it helps them to see a familiar, and trusting, face. The patients recognize him, and he is already familiar with their treatment history, which benefits both.

Another beneficial aspect of evaluating clients at Covenant House, Dr. Solberg says, is that he is able to record his evaluations in a medical charting system that links with the hospital so their records are in the system.

“When the ER sees that they have a medical history already, they can get the treatment they need,” he says.

Pergiel says Dr. Solberg’s care is a critical component to serving the needs of Covenant House’s clients and she already has seen it make a difference.

“I think without Providence a lot more of our kids would have fallen through the cracks,” she says. “I think we literally have saved lives with this care." ​​​​