Free mobile medical unit for Vallejo’s homeless to launch this weekend

Vallejo Times-Herald
by Rachel Raskin-Zrihen
9/24/2018

Being homeless can be like living in a third world country, or in an earlier century. Nowhere is this more true than with medicine.

This is the main reason behind volunteers from Vallejo Together, Touro University, and Kaiser Permanente Vallejo building a mobile medical unit — set to launch this weekend — to serve Vallejo’s homeless population.

“We tried this for a while a couple of years ago, where we toured Vallejo encampments once a month and visited many that are ill,” Vallejo Together founder Maria Guevara said. “At one encampment, the residents left a man in a corner ‘to die’ as he was deathly ill. When we visited him, the nurse seemed to think he had the flu. We bought medications and he was up and walking in a couple of days. At another place, a woman could not stand as she had swollen feet and no shoes. And at another place, a man was bitten by a spider which caused an infection that would’ve cost him his leg. Many ailments could be circumvented with the proper and immediate medical attention.”

These are the types of circumstances the new mobile medical unit – something like a military MASH unit – is trying to address, Kaiser Permanente Vallejo Medical Center doctor Emily Fisher said.

“As a Vallejo resident and family medicine physician, I reached out to Maria almost a year ago to see what I could to do get involved in working with and for the local homeless community,” Fisher said. “She immediately suggested the idea of a mobile unit, and thus the Vallejo mobile health unit was born.”

Fisher said she’s been working on building the unit with Guevara and three Touro University medical school students.

“Our goal is to treat the most pressing needs in the most effective way, which we believe is by taking care directly to the people that need it,” Fisher said. “Due to transportation issues, lack of trust, financial and mental health concerns, many homeless people do not seek care. Sadly, when they do, it is often at the emergency room when the situation has become dire. This is more dangerous for them and is far more expensive to the medical system. By bringing point of service care, we are hoping to mitigate this need.”

Fisher said she hopes not only to provide medical care to this under-served population, they also also want to provide mental health services when possible – something she describes as a huge unmet need.

“This is a group of people who too often have their humanity stolen from them,” Fisher said. “People see them as bums, drug addicts, and lazy, or they act like they don’t see them at all. I had the opportunity to work at the Suitcase Clinic (a student run clinic for Berkeley’s homeless population) as an undergrad, and I got to know many of the clinic’s regulars. They became my friends, and I learned their stories, and this experience completely changed my trajectory. ‘The homeless’ are just another group of people who are in need of empathy and understanding.”

“We’ll go around to homeless encampments around Vallejo to provide general health checkups, with supplies like, cotton, balls, Neosporin, bandages, blood pressure machines, tongue depressors, all kinds of things,” she said. “ I want to serve an under-served population. That’s why I wanted to become a doctor. I have a passion for providing for the under served. And when doctor Fisher approached me with the idea, I thought t was great. The idea of going to where they are – people who have difficulty getting to a stationary clinic – seemed like a good one.”

Dolores said she hopes to practice emergency medicine as a way of reaching such people.

“Anyone can walk through the Emergency Room door regardless of insurance status,” she said.

Kaiser Vallejo nurse Celeste Silva of Fairfield is the project’s volunteer nurse coordination.

“This is important because I’ve lived in Vallejo and worked here for years, and you see people in need who don’t get help. You see people who are really sick, but they don’t know where to go. Some even die from not getting treatment,” she said. “We assess people for what can be serious conditions.”

Fisher said the group also wants to “hook people up with available resources.”

“Working with Vallejo Together makes it possible, to use of the homeless day center on Sonoma Boulevard as an address to help with service providers,” she said. “That’s one of the beauties of working with Vallejo Together.”

The ultimate goal is to re-house as many people as possible, she said.

“Chronic health conditions is often listed as a main reason for homelessness,” Fisher said. “We hope that by addressing some of these we can help remove a barrier to being housed. We also want to start finding other areas of intervention and advocacy to end their homeless. This is really the ultimate goal.”

The group hopes one day to have a specially outfitted van. That is being worked on, but for now Fisher said she’s modeling the program after the global medical brigades she participated in in Honduras.

“We set up a pop-up clinic in places near where the target population is,” she said.

It’s something she’s been thinking about since working with the homeless in Berkeley, she said.

“I was the foot-washing clinic coordinator,” she said. “Its a very humbling experience to be at someone’s feet, especially someone who themselves have been humbled by their situation and people’s view of them. I heard their stories – some of them were veterans, professors – they’d had lives and jobs and then something happened. It was a really powerful experience.”

Vallejo Together’s mobile medical unit is still in need of many things, organizers said. While the Touro Free Clinic is donating some medical supplies, over-the-counter medication costs, lunch costs, other supplies, like, alcohol swabs, hand sanitizer, gauze, gloves, a portable exam table, food, sleeping bags, and clothes, as well as a mental health professional are all still needed, organizers said.

For information, call Vallejo Together at (707) 655-5381 or visit them on Facebook, or contact Dr. Fisher at emily.p.fisher@kp.org.

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