Since the beginning of the year, members of Adventist Health and Rideout’s Street Nursing program have set up shop in area resource centers twice a week to treat individuals experiencing homelessness.
So far, the handful of team members has treated close to 400 individuals for about 650 visits. Once they receive the necessary funding to purchase a mobile van, they hope to increase the services they provide and the amount of days out in the field.
“We really only have two people that go out to the sites now. We are in the process of hiring a full-time manager,” said Monica Arrowsmith, mission integration executive with Adventist. “We’ve also been awarded (California Emergency Solutions and Housing) funding to help purchase and equip a mobile van, so we plan to have a mobile clinic as soon as that funding is released. Once that happens, we foresee it evolving into a full-time program at a variety of sites and locations.”
The mobile van would also be equipped with telemonitoring, allowing patients instant access to physicians when they need their input. The hope is to have the mobile clinic operational by winter.
Currently, the street nurses are operating out of offices in the Hands of Hope building and Life Building Center two days a week. The program was established after Adventist awarded $75,000 worth of grant funding to serve the Yuba-Sutter area’s homeless population.
“The (Street Nursing program) has been doing an awesome job,” said Rick Millhollin, executive director of Hands of Hope. “The work they do helps cut down on the people having to go to the ER with something severe because the nurses are able to catch things early. They’ve been doing just a phenomenal job, and it’s one of the best things we’ve got going on right now in terms of the types of services we have available to people experiencing homelessness.”
While their work consists of medical check ups and management of chronic diseases, it also entails assisting some individuals with low cost telephones in order to communicate with their health care providers or helping reschedule appointments if a person is experiencing transportation issues. Some have even been helped in finding permanent housing.
“A large portion of that population have behavioral health issues, so we are also trying to enhance medication compliance to help stabilize diseases,” said Teri Howard, director of Case Management for Adventist, who oversees the Street Nursing program. “We support them however we can. I would say every patient that comes in leaves with a hug on the way out. It might not seem like it but that sort of connection or touch is so important in treating this population.”
Howard said every month, her team finds about 6-8 patients that are critical and need to be seen at the emergency room. When they encounter those situations, team members coordinate their transport to Adventist Health and Rideout.
“I think the average number of encounters we have per patient is two to three, but some patients come every week, and some just come to the center looking to talk,” Howard said.
Making an impact
Every month, the street team, along with representatives from the sheriff’s office and county, go out into the field to meet with members of the homeless population to get a better feel about where the hot spots are and the needs they have.
Howard said they’ve seen how the program is starting to break down some of the barriers between them and the population they are serving.
“I would definitely say there’s been an increase in trust. I think the homeless feel more comfortable in accepting care rather than in the past. More and more we see them coming out and asking for appointments and assistance in filling their prescriptions,” Howard said. “The biggest issue I see is the management of chronic diseases and taking medication. So, if we can keep those prescriptions filled, these patients are likely to do better for a longer period of time.”
Once the mobile clinic is operational, the program is considering expanding to five days a week. In addition to expanding services to surrounding jurisdictions like Colusa and Butte counties, Arrowsmith said the mobile clinic will serve as a follow-up facility for when patients are discharged from the emergency department.
While the grant funding for the program will help, it won’t be enough to cover ongoing costs associated with the program and staffing needs. Community members or organizations willing to help can donate through the hospital’s foundation at www.adventisthealth.org/rideout/giving.
“It’s so easy to cast the homeless in a broad stroke, as opposed to people that are experiencing homelessness,” Arrowhead said. “Everyone has a story and everyone is a child of God, so our hope is that our community doesn’t judge one person on the basis of their experience against another.”