House call to the homeless

By Teri Okita – bio | email

KAKAAKO (HawaiiNewsNow) - Students from the University of Hawaii's John A. Burns School of Medicine are tackling homeless healthcare.

Every week, the medical students make their rounds at three shelters. The students gain experience; the homeless gain free healthcare.

Carol Tamura gets her high blood pressure checked once a week.

"It's so convenient," said Tamura. "I just walk from here to there."

She's lived at Kaka'ako's Next Step shelter since last summer, and every Thursday she stops by a traveling clinic run by UH medical students.

Most of the patients suffer from things like respiratory illness, asthma and skin infections. The homeless also have unique medical problems most of us don't, forcing these students to think outside of the box with their diagnosis.

"One of the common things that come up with little kids is we'd like to prescribe antibiotics," said Taryn Park, a fourth-year medical student. "But a lot of antibiotics have to be refrigerate, and so that actually becomes an issue for this patient population."

This project called HOME (Homeless Outreach and Medical Education) started in 2005 with a grant. It not only provides free medical care to homeless patients, but also gives UH medical students some real-world experience with a growing number of the underserved.

"If you expose them to this kind of medicine when they're training, they're much more likely to give back once they're doctors," said Dr. Jill Omori, HOME project director.

Twenty nine-year-old Jason Griffith has lived at the Next Step Shelter for four months. He's been bothered lately by a burn on his leg.

"I'm glad this is here because I get stuff that I need taken care of," said Griffith.

If the homeless patients have serious illnesses, they'll be referred. Otherwise, they know they don't have to go far for that house call.

Students involved in the HOME project visit shelters in Kaka'ako, Waianae and Kalaeloa.

Some receive credit, depending on their year in school. Others volunteer, and they're supervised by a licensed physician.

And a big congratulations to Taryn Park, who graduated from UH this past weekend and begins her residency soon.