Street Medicine Service Outreach Healthy Community (2019)


Citywide

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Whether we look or turn away from them, most Chicagoans know there are at least 1,500 people who live, unsheltered, on the streets of Chicago each night. But what only few of us may have thought about is if or how they receive medical care. Individuals experiencing homelessness are also disproportionately affected by health conditions – both physical and mental – with depression, diabetes and HIV among the maladies found at higher rates among the homeless. And, making things more complex – concerns about stigmatization, safety and unfamiliarity make those experiencing homelessness far less likely to visit primary care or outpatient care centers to seek medical attention. Originally a pilot program launched by veteran Chicago organization the Night Ministry, in the fall of 2015 University of Illinois at Chicago medical residents and students created a fully staffed and independent entity, Chicago Street Medicine, to be a regular on-the-street medical team for the homeless as well as to advocate for them. The Street Medicine Team performs “street runs,” essentially bringing home visits to individuals experiencing homelessness. Operating out of a van, the Street Medicine Team works multiple days each week bringing specialized healthcare to more than 100 patients across eight locations in the city. On each run teams of doctors, residents and students visit homeless encampments throughout the city to provide immediate care and build trusting relationships. While they treat colds and minor ailments as well as teaching people how to care for wounds on site, the relationship forged means that when hospital care is needed, people are more willing to agree. Both participants and advocates agree that Chicago Street Medicine is improving health outcomes for the homeless as well as empowering them with self-care techniques. And as for the students and doctors – they say it’s changed and improved their practice and understanding as well. “There are times when health, for our patients, does not mean going to the hospital,” said resident physician Josh Smith. “Because in a hospital they feel unsafe, stigmatized, and judged.” “We’ve had wonderful success with patients who were homeless and have bad wounds and infections, and they’ve actually been connected with housing,” said resident physician Karim Khan. “That’s a tremendous thing.”