The Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless reports that approximately 1,100 Rhode Islanders are currently homeless and 300 live outside. For people without housing, wait times for beds in emergency shelter or transitional housing can take months. Shared housing, malnutrition and exposure to the elements, compounded by a lack of access to regular preventive care or medication, expose the homeless to higher rates of illness and chronic disease, including diabetes , hypertension and heart disease.
To encourage health fair attendees to build a relationship with a health care provider, many student volunteers help people fill out medical history forms that they can bring to future appointments. Representatives from the Rhode Island Free Clinic, Clínica Esperanza, and Providence Community Health Centers attend the fair each year to make in-person contacts and schedule follow-up appointments.
“The key to the fair’s success is having all of these organizations nearby, so that our attendees can walk a few steps after completing their medical history form to schedule an appointment,” said sophomore Makena Mette. year of medicine at Brown. “By showcasing the free clinics, we hope to make them more accessible so that today’s attendees can see them and realize that this is an institution worthy of their time and trust and that they can get quality care.
For Mette and other medical students at Brown, advocating for patients and providing care to historically and chronically underserved communities is central to what it means to be a healthcare provider. Clínica Esperanza and the Rhode Island Free Clinic attract between 75 and 100 medical students each year, and providing care at the clinics and hosting events like the Burnside Park Health Fair provide students with an important opportunity to work in support to members of the local community.
“At all medical schools, but specifically at Brown, we are trained to get to know the patient and not just the diagnosis,” Mette said. “I hope the medical system evolves to be more empathetic to the plight of homeless people because I think often times they don’t get the care they should get because of all the stigma that comes with homelessness. ”
Over the past few years, homelessness in Rhode Island has increased, and Jaworski thanks community partners like those at Brown and his medical school for additional critical support.
“The work we are facing right now is just overwhelming,” she said. “The demand for services greatly exceeds the supply. The more people we can have working with us, the better. Brown’s doctors and students are among the unsung heroes we depend on. We are grateful that there is a real partnership opportunity to do this work together.”