By Cathy Finn
Twice a week some Duffy Health Center staff packs up all the bandages, pain reliever packets and basic medical equipment that can fit into a rolling suitcase and heads over the NOAH shelter to do a little medical work.
The acronym NOAH stands for No Other Available Housing, and that building tends to be the last stop for some in a downslide that started with house, home and health and ended in having “no other available housing.”
One Thursday, our beloved Dr. Lisa was at the shelter working through a signup sheet of folks who often have anything from small scrapes to severe issues that need to be sent on for the attention of the emergency room. Cindy Glista, a nurse who was with Duffy at the very beginning of its formation and who knows many of the shelter people well, was assisting Dr. Lisa.
A gentleman that we have worked with for many years was at the top of the list. Cindy and I had actually just talked about him earlier in the day. He has been homeless for a very long time, living in the woods; the tight knit quarters of the shelter were not at all to his liking. He had set up quite a camp, filled with the many things that make him happy.
This man is well loved by many here at Duffy. He is very bright. He said he has been to MIT and I believe him. He is extremely interesting but, to use the common vernacular, “as crazy as a loon.” This is not news to him. If asked, he will rattle off his diagnosis and all his symptoms. He has learned to live with them over the years; he consistently refuses medications, but he has therapy here at Duffy. He comes in to see us for an occasional shower, to check in, and for his behavioral health appointments. He asks very little from us.
Due to valid health and safety issues, his camp was recently dismantled by the authorities. So, he was at the shelter with most of his belongings gone and having lost the place he called home.
Cindy called him up her office to ask him why he had put his name on the Duffy list, what his medical issue was.
“I need some TLC,” he said.
Well, there isn’t a medical code for TLC. We can bill for general checkups, for removing ingrown toenails, or for giving advice on diabetes. This gentleman didn’t think he needed any medical help although, in truth, he went through an outpatient procedure last week and did need to have his wound checked. But that was not why he came to Cindy and Dr. Lisa. He needed some TLC from two women who really care that his camp was bulldozed and he had a great loss in his life. He knew where to go.
Every morning most of the Duffy medical staff gets together for a short 20 minute huddle, to discuss many issues that might impact the day. Recently, during more than a few of those meetings, the discussion was around the fact that we are doing a lot of emotional support during our visits to the shelter; the medical issues are sometimes a side piece, although important. Well, important to the medical staff. The patients are looking for so much more, which we are also happy to provide.
In response to this need we have started sending our psychiatrist, Dr Field, as well as a therapist, Brian Diehl and a case manager, Arlene Crosby, to places that our patients tend to hang out, such as the shelter, the Salvation Army at lunch time, and the coffee house put on by Vin Fen. In this meet-and-greet format, they hope to get some reticent homeless comfortable with our behavioral health staff, thus making it easier to reach some of the mentally ill who are afraid to make connections get help.
If you are interested in helping with our mission to provide onsite medical services to the folks at NOAH, please consider making a donation to Duffy. Please visit our website to learn more about giving opportunities.