Fayette County

Lexington homeless shelter will require Hepatitis A vaccine to get a bed

The men’s sleeping area at the new Catholic Action Center in Lexington.
The men’s sleeping area at the new Catholic Action Center in Lexington.

A Lexington homeless shelter says it will not allow people who have not had a Hepatitis A vaccine to stay there after Aug. 6.

The Catholic Action Center, which houses both men and women, will offer free Hepatitis A vaccines from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, July 29 and will continue to offer free vaccines for those who want to stay at the shelter, said co-founder Ginny Ramsey.

Ramsey said organizers decided to require the immunization after learning July 6 a member of the city’s homeless population had tested positive for Hepatitis A. In Louisville, the illness spread quickly in its homeless population. Ramsey said she and the homeless providers did not want the same thing to happen in Fayette County.

Thanks to the health department, HealthFirst Bluegrass and a grant from Stoeckinger Foundation, the shelter will be able to provide the immunizations for free for those who do not have health insurance.

“We want to protect this population,” Ramsey said. “The Fayette County Health Department is coming in on a Sunday on their own time. “

The Catholic Action Center, which receives no city or state money, is the only homeless shelter in the city that will require an immunization before someone can stay there, said Polly Ruddick, director of Lexington’s Office of Homeless Intervention and Prevention.

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With help from Fayette County Health Commissioner Dr. Kraig Humbaugh, the city’s homeless providers have upped education and outreach and increased access to the immunization since January, Ruddick said.

“This population ... needs the immunization the most,” Ruddick said.

Kentucky is in the midst of the largest Hepatitis A outbreak in the country with 1,094 cases spread over 65 of the state’s 120 counties. Eight people have died, according to the latest figures. In Fayette County, there have been six cases.

Hepatitis A is transmitted by oral contact with fecal matter. It attacks the liver and causes symptoms that include abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, fever and jaundice.

The Hope Center, which provides emergency shelter for men, has worked with HealthFirst Bluegrass, which operates the center’s health clinic, to educate and offer vaccines. Bluegrass Community Health Center had done the same at the New Life Day Center, a homeless day shelter. The University of Kentucky, which operates a clinic at the Salvation Army where women and children stay, will soon have the vaccine to offer to people staying there, Ruddick said.

The health department also did an educational seminar and clinic at Lighthouse Ministries, which offers meals and other services to the homeless, and vaccinated 22 people earlier this year, she said.

In addition, the health department offers the vaccine at its needle exchange.

Ramsey said the Catholic Action Center’s outreach van will also have the vaccine and will offer it to homeless not staying in shelters.

Ramsey said she told people at the Catholic Action Center on Sunday that as of Aug. 6, those without proof of a vaccine could not stay there. She expected push back.

“Many people actually applauded,” Ramsey said.

Ruddick said although there is only one confirmed case of Hepatitis A in the city’s homeless population, the groups want to keep it that way.

The city of Louisville “had to respond to an outbreak,” Ruddick said. “We are trying to be proactive.”