Sunday, January 2, 2011

In Ohio, "street med" takes care to homeless people, many who have disabilities

From The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio:

Their backpacks full of ointments, antibiotics, gauze and other supplies, the team followed a snowy path through the woods and into a still-sleepy camp.

Nurse Maureen McDermott hollered: "Good morning! Mount Carmel Outreach! Anybody sick?"

The residents began to stir. They rolled cigarettes and boiled water for coffee on propane burners.

Inside the tents and plywood shelters were concerns both common and complex.

Story continues belowAdvertisement One man, new to the former park in Franklinton, met the team with suspicion. He'd been drinking for hours, he said, and began to recount the rocky circumstances that led him to the camp within view of Downtown office buildings.

He suffers with traumatic brain injury and mental illness and needed medication, so the team called Southeast Mental Health Services for help.

For the others, they checked blood pressure, tended to wounds, wrote an order for a hip X-ray and passed out medicine.

The men and women with Mount Carmel Outreach meet with homeless advocate Ken Andrews one morning each week and then head out to care for them. They treat who they can and refer others. That can mean hospital care, rehab and assistance finding housing or reconnecting with family.

They call it "street med."

Mount Carmel has long used a mobile outreach van to see many of the city's homeless. For the past six months, in hopes of reaching more, a team has headed out to the camps scattered throughout the city.

On one morning last week, the team was made up of nurse practitioner Jackie White, McDermott and medical tech Jason King.

They usually care for three to 10 patients, depending on how many people are around and how many have health concerns, White said.

Ideally, they connect their patients with a regular source of health care, she said.

They see a lot. Broken arms left for days without care. Antibiotic-resistant staph infections. Abscesses.

Another group, Healthcare for the Homeless, also makes regular camp visits. Both fill a great community need, said Michelle Heritage Ward, executive director of the Community Shelter Board.

Often, the physical health of homeless people is seriously compromised, Ward said, adding that the average lifespan for someone living on the streets is just 62 years. Between acute problems (infections, broken bones) and long-term ones (diabetes, cancer) the toll without proper care is high.

Some homeless people face obstacles getting to free clinics or getting medicine.

"Health care is not on the top of their priority list of needs," said McDermott, explaining that when it's brought to them, many people are more likely to take the help.

"Usually we can meet their needs, or find somebody who can."

Most of the homeless at the camps know the Mount Carmel team. Last week, there was more than one embrace and many holiday wishes.

Andrews shared his thermos of coffee along the way. The team gave socks to Bob Hunter, a kind 50-year-old who became homeless almost five years ago after he lost his part-time job and was evicted.

Hunter, who lives on the Miranova peninsula, has gum disease. White and McDermott brainstormed how best to get him to a free dental clinic at Stowe Baptist Church on Parsons Avenue.

He doesn't like to travel by bus or cab, so he'd need to walk. They wanted to figure out a way to ensure that he'd be seen if he made it to the busy clinic.

His neighbor, 39-year-old John Van Tuyl, needed help, too, for a hand he burned with candle wax. It was carefully and cleanly wrapped, but it was becoming infected. He had also run out of blood-pressure medicine.

White stepped inside his shelter, which was decorated with a Christmas stocking. Candy canes hung from a nearby honeysuckle bush.

Tuyl, who works as much as he can as a day laborer, said he was grateful for the care.

"It's nice. It's hard to track down help sometimes. Some people won't find the services unless they come to them."