Small medical team struggles to help homeless keep wounds in check

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Elizabeth Glenn hit the streets of Chinatown on Thursday morning with a team of outreach workers and a bin full of basic medial supplies.

For the past eight years, the registered nurse has split her time heading up the clinic at the Institute for Human Services men's shelter and practicing "street medicine."

Much of her work is done with soap and water -- coupled with a little of advice.

"You remember Norberto who used to sleep on the bench right next to you here? He passed away from something just like this," Glenn told a woman near Hotel Street as she treated a wound on her foot. "You really need to get it taken care of,"

But often that message falls on deaf ears.

"The mentally ill are very difficult as well as the alcoholics and hard-core drug users because they have very poor follow through," Glenn said.

And she and others believe expanding her street team to include more nurses and a doctor who could prescribe antibiotics could save the state millions of dollars in medical expenses.

"The benefit is they could get treated earlier and they could get treated consistently," she said.

Glenn uses photos to keep track of some of the injuries she's encountered. Her team treated 408 injuries last year. Many of the wounds are on the legs and feet. She says the one thing the injuries have in common is that they stemmed from a minor cut or scrape that got infected.

Charles Long, who has lived on the street about a year, knows that story all too well. Recently, an infection on his leg landed him in the hospital.

"I went to the ambulance to get some clean up. They said no come in. They put me on a liquid IV for 10 days," he said.

That stay could have easily been prevented if he would have been treated earlier, Glenn said.

"The supplies probably cost less than $50. I will see anyone who needs help. And that's the key," she said. "That flexibility to help whoever needs help. To not need and appointment."

Copyright 2016 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved