Meeting the Needs of a Vulnerable Population

From left: PA Renee Bond, CMA Relicia Garcia, and RN Mindy Dietz make up the medical team at the Brother Francis Caring Clinic.

For years the Brother Francis Shelter operated a small health clinic near the shelter’s front entrance. It was supported by volunteers and usually opened just once a week. In 2017, the clinic underwent an extensive remodel to meet the needs of BFS guests. The clinic was outfitted with several exam bays with privacy screens. The remodel was made possible through a partnership between Southcentral Foundation, Catholic Social Services, and the Municipality of Anchorage.

Now the modern clinic is open five days a week and provides a variety of services. On a typical day, the clinic treats wounds, coughs, and colds. The medical employees have also seen severe lacerations, broken bones, pneumonia, and influenza. The clinic helps to prevent treatable ailments from escalating into life-threatening conditions. On average, the clinic sees about 14 people per day during the winter months.

“Having the Caring Clinic operated by SCF on-site at Brother Francis Shelter has been life-changing for many of our guests,” Catholic Social Services Executive Director Lisa Aquino said. “The compassionate and professional staff from SCF provide another person for people we serve, some of the most disenfranchised in our state, to connect with and start a new path. Sometimes it just takes one interaction to change a life.”

The expanded services offered at the Caring Clinic meets a crucial element in the SCF Needs Assessment — better access to primary care. Every effort is being made to ensure that with growth, whether on the medical campus or off campus, SCF’s approach to care continues to remain personal, respectful, and centered on customer-ownership. The clinic is staffed by SCF employees who care deeply about the people they treat. A physician’s assistant, registered nurse, and a certified medical assistant work full time and are responsible for the daily operations at the facility.

Renee Bond is the clinic’s physician assistant. She believes the key to providing the best care to Anchorage’s homeless population is to develop a relationship with the guests and treat them as human beings. Many of the BFS guests refuse to go to area hospitals because they fear they will be judged or stigmatized.

Bond recalls a man who reluctantly sought help from the clinic. Covered in soot and suffering from frostbite, the man was irritable and wary of the employees. The clinic employees helped him warm up, gave him clean clothes, and assisted him with washing. Over several months — trust was built, and the man is now healthier, has housing, a job, and cheerfully checks in at the clinic.

“We’ve developed a rapport with the people we see — we know many of them by name. It’s important to take a minute to sit and talk with them, give them a hug if they are crying,” Bond said. “To know that I’ve had a positive input in their lives is a good feeling.”

Better access to care also comes by having customer-owner medications delivered right to the clinic. More than a year ago, SCF implemented the service where a pharmacy technician delivers medications daily. To expedite care, the clinic also added an in-house lab. With the expanded services offered, emergency calls to BFS have significantly dropped. BFS reaches its 240-person capacity almost every night.

by Sharon Leighow

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