Street Medicine

May 14, 2017

Street Medicine

Heritage Health serves homeless with mobile clinic and community outreach program

By MARC STEWART

Homeless people get sick or become injured like everybody else — only they don’t have health insurance to pay for a doctor’s visit or to have their prescriptions filled.

The lack of insurance or money to pay for basic health care services can have life-altering consequences. A bad cut can easily become a raging infection, a nagging cough develops into pneumonia, or unchecked high blood pressure leads to a fatal heart attack.

Heritage Health is addressing the problem with its street medicine and community outreach program, providing medical, dental and mental health services to the homeless and underserved individuals. The program also is able to help people and families connect with nonprofits, churches and other groups dedicated to serving the homeless population in Kootenai County.

“We go out into the community to where we know we can make contact with the underserved of our community,” said T.J. Byrne, Heritage Health’s Homeless Outreach Director.  “One of the biggest issues for our patients is transportation. It can be next to impossible for them to be able to get to us.”

Which is why Heritage Health began using a converted RV in 2009 to deliver basic healthcare to people who could not otherwise get to the doctor. The mobile clinic operates weekly Monday through Thursday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. with a four-person medical team.

“It’s like urgent care on wheels,” said Byrne. “We’re able to make a diagnosis and provide needed medications.”

The mobile clinic serves between 80 and 100 people per week, delivering a wide array of care and services, and many more for social service needs, and referral to other agencies for basic needs, safety, shelter, food, and transportation.

“We can help people who have been assaulted or injured,” he said. “We have splints and sutures. If somebody has diabetes or high blood pressure, we have medicines for them.”

The Street Medicine team also makes individual visits to people who are not able to get to local shelters and churches, providing care, food, clothing, and other essentials.

Heritage Health’s Street Medicine program collaborates with a wide spectrum of partners, including local churches, area food banks, law enforcement, St. Vincent de Paul of North Idaho, private businesses like Medicine Man Pharmacy and other healthcare providers.

“Any organization that is helping the underserved is someone we’re looking to work with,” said Byrne. “We’re able to help each other and better serve our patients.”