When Mark Block, RN, assesses patients its not inside a traditional medical clinic. Instead, Block and his colleagues in the Valley Homeless Healthcare Program shoulder medical backpacks and make weekly visits to a 65-acre area homeless encampment called The Jungle in San Jose, Calif.
The programs staff of 35, composed of physicians, nurses, mental-health experts and outreach workers, provides medical care to more than 7,000 homeless patients each year. In addition to the backpack medicine component, VHHP cares for Santa Clara Countys homeless through walk-in clinics and a mobile unit. The county- and grant-funded program launched in 2004, and is operated through the Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System.
A federal survey released in 2013 showed that San Jose/Santa Clara County had the fifth-highest homeless population in the nation with approximately 7,631 homeless residents, Janet Kohl, RN, nurse coordinator, VHHP, said. We work to get patients to come to our mobile or walk-in clinics, but if they are resistant, our backpack medicine team assesses them right at the encampment where they live.
Mental illness and addiction issuesMarcy Egbujor, left, a DNP with the Backpack Homeless Healthcare Program, which is one facet of the Santa Clara Valley Homeless Healthcare Program, and colleague Mark Block, RN, carry backpacks filled with medical supplies into a homeless encampment.
Since many homeless patients suffer from mental illness and addiction issues, and are wary of the medical system, a big part of the VHHP nurses job is building trust and helping patients overcome their resistance to and distrust of public programs.
Our team works very hard to get to know this population and to be consistent in our care, Block said. In addition to our medical supplies, we carry snacks and personal hygiene items such as shampoo, toothbrushes and deodorant, which can serve as ice-breakers and are appreciated by the patients we see.
In addition to caring for homeless in the encampments, VHHP also cares for patients when they are hospitalized and after they have been discharged. In 2008, VHHP launched the homeless medical respite program, a collaborative initiative between VHHP, eight hospitals in the county and the local homeless shelter.
Use of grant funds and in kind donations
The VHHP continues to receive grant funding and gets positive feedback, Kohl said. The program welcomes additional monetary and in-kind donations, she said.
We love getting sample and hotel-size shampoos and other personal hygiene items that can be distributed to the homeless, Kohl said. Donations can be sent or dropped off at any of the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center facilities. For a list of locations, visit scvmc.org.