Care for the most vulnerable
SIU Medicine, Salvation Army partner for clinic
On a cold December day, a man staying at the winter warming shelter found out from a friend that free walk-in health services were available at SIU Medicine.
Homeless, just recently returned to central Illinois from Oregon and in need of a primary care physician to help with ADD, he ventured over to SIU Medicine’s recently established clinic at the Salvation Army on Clear Lake. After a walk-in visit and another two follow-up appointments, it’s helped steady his life.
“He's been doing so well since then,” said Lauren Harbison, a program services specialist at SIU Medicine. "He's got a place to live, got his meds, has a stable job. And so now he feels comfortable, and has been coming to his appointments at our clinic.”
It’s those kinds of success stories that encapsulate the power and importance of the clinic at the Salvation Army. Since Spring 2022, SIU Medicine and the Salvation Army have partnered to provide a more convenient General Internal Medicine health care clinic designed to eliminate barriers for some of our most vulnerable neighbors seeking care.
One barrier that often comes up is trust in institutions and the medical system. The goal from the beginning was creating a smaller, consistent team so patients are welcomed by a familiar face to help build lasting relationships.
“It’s gaining trust from people who don't trust anyone,” said Nikeyah Jackson, CMA. “It’s getting to know patients who are having a rough time in life. Sometimes just by talking to them, you're the highlight of their day because they're not talking to anyone.”
When the clinic first opened, a high percentage of no-shows and days where one or zero patients would come in was common. But throughout the past year, the no-show rates have dropped dramatically and additional hours have been added to accommodate the growing need. Other services are in the works as well, including more specialized services for women.
The clinic itself is set up to be different than walking into General Internal Medicine in the Moy Building. A small waiting area leads into two exam rooms as well as a doctor’s office to the side, presenting a more intimate space that doesn’t include the hustle and bustle of dozens of patients and staff. And it’s a familiar environment for many, whether they’ve attended programs, used the food pantry or other resources.
“They arrive at a clinic that’s not so intimidating,” said Erin Jones, program director at SIU. “It's not the medical district. It's not a place where they feel like they’re going to get lost.”
PARTNERS FOR CRISIS CARE
That relationship building extends beyond patients, SIU and the Salvation Army. Helping Hands and Contact Ministries are nearby to make access easier for individuals staying at those shelters. Community health workers continually touch base with other hospitals, case managers from social services agencies, police departments, housing, mental health services and many others to provide the best care possible. For those living in shelters or on the street, there’s a wide range of medical needs. That includes crisis care.
“We can contact the police and say, we can't find this person and we don't know if they're still in Springfield. Can you help? And so, there's a team of people that Lauren now reaches out to,” said Dawn Mobley, Family Medicine program coordinator. “It does take a team of like-minded people who are willing to sometimes think out of the box.”
“Creating that spot where they could get all of those services at once is vital,” adds Jones.
That’s a bonus for the Salvation Army as well, which is committed to helping those less fortunate. Throughout the height of the pandemic, Major Jeff Eddy of The Salvation Army Clear Lake Corps was able to work with SIU Medicine clinicians and staff as they provided on-site care to as many as 50 people at one point. Evolving that relationship into a permanent clinic seemed natural.
“I feel like SIU has really been in the trenches with us, especially throughout COVID-19,” Eddy said. “My hope is that SIU and the community really catch on to the endless possibilities that this partnership provides. It could change Springfield and be the model for other communities.”
And now that the clinic has been open for a year, patients have been able to test the waters, develop a rapport and commit to taking steps to improve their health.
“That's one of the things that we noticed with a lot of our population of homeless,” Jones said. “It's one thing to get them in the office once. But if they don't feel like there's a connection, if they don’t feel there's a relationship there, if they feel like the provider's not listening to them or doesn’t care about them, they're not coming back.
“The fact that they are seeing the provider every month, that they're coming into the clinic consistently, that is a huge success.”
Seeing the realization of patients taking control of their health care and empowering them to improve their health that is a payoff for the staff as well.
“Our goal is to allow them to lead,” Mobley said. “That is really the beauty of this program. To see them on their own and able to do things that they didn't think that they could do – it's that progression that really keeps me wanting to do this job and drives the satisfaction.”