Win-Win for homeless patients and UH med students

By Teri Okita – bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – As Governor Neil Abercrombie and his homeless coordinator unveil their 90-day plan to combat homeless in the islands, 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 – in Kakaako, Waianae, and Kalaeloa. The students gain experience. The homeless get free healthcare.

Carol Tamura gets her high blood pressure checked once-a-week. "It's so convenient," says Tamura. "I just walk from here to there," she says as she points a short distance from her sleeping area to the traveling clinic run by UH medical students.

She's lived here at Kakaako's Next Step shelter since last summer, and every Thursday, she stops by the clinic. On the night we visited, she's examined by fourth year student, Taryn Park.

"So, do you keep a log yourself?" Park asks Tamura, as they flip through her chart. Tamura nods. "Oh, excellent. Excellent!" the student responds.

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 out-of-the-box with their diagnosis.

Park explains, "One of the common things that come up with little kids is: we'd like to prescribe antibiotics. But a lot of antibiotics have to be refrigerated, and so that actually becomes an issue for this patient population."

This project called H.O.M.E. - 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," explains Dr. Jill Omori, the H.O.M.E. project director. Some of the students receive credits, depending on their year in school. Others volunteer, and they're always supervised by a licensed physician.

29 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," says Griffith.

If the homeless patients have serious illnesses, they'll be referred to other health providers. Otherwise, they know they don't have to go far for that housecall.

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