Our point of view: “street medicine” offers a promising avenue

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Worried about having a sinus infection? A call to your doctor may have antibiotics waiting for you at a pharmacy within an hour. Belly problems? A quick trip to your favorite retailer offers dozens of over-the-counter remedies. Do you scratch your knee while hiking? Your medicine cabinet probably contains everything you need to disinfect the wound and keep it clean while it heals.

For the homeless, however, minor problems like these can escalate. People who live on the streets tend to delay medical treatment until their condition becomes acute, and then go to the only place where they are sure to receive treatment: a hospital emergency room, which is the most expensive and least efficient place to receive medical care. .

The numbers tell the story. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American goes to the emergency room about once every 2.5 years. At the same time, our nation’s homeless population averages five emergency room visits per person, and in the Midwest, the rate is even higher.

Since homeless people rarely have insurance, the cost of that care falls on hospitals, taxpayers, and everyone else who uses the healthcare system – meaning we all benefit from any strategy that provides healthcare. homeless people more effectively.

This is one of the reasons we’re big fans of a new “street medicine” class launched by Zumbro Valley Medical Society and Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine. Twenty-eight first- and second-year medical students had their first class Monday at the Rochester Community Warming Center, near the government center in downtown Rochester.

The real learning, however, will likely take place a few blocks north of The Landing, the homeless shelter near Silver Lake Park.

The Landing already hosts medical clinics twice a week with the help of paramedics from the Mayo Clinic, but this new program promises something more. These 28 students will gain direct, supervised experience working with homeless people on their own land, in a setting where patients are more likely to be honest about their conditions and receptive to medical advice.

There is no guarantee that this course will be more than a one-time course that ends in May, but we see it as a real win-win that should become a recurring option for medical students. Rochester’s homeless population – estimated at least 400 adults – will have another healthcare option without going to the emergency room, and some future doctors will be better prepared to help homeless patients who cross their path in the future. . This experience will be invaluable, as homeless people typically have a complex array of conditions, often including mental health issues.

Cynics, of course, might object to this program as somehow “allowing” the homeless to continue on their current path. Indeed, some might argue that Rochester has become too hospitable to the homeless, or to alcoholics who reside in Silver Creek Corner, or to those finding shelter and mental health treatment at the South Regional Crisis Center. East.

While we argue that a vital component of a city’s identity is its compassion for the sick and less fortunate, the reality is that such compassion just makes economic sense. When a community helps homeless people get medical care, meals and shelter, it keeps them out of hospital and possibly jail. Ditto for alcoholics, drug addicts and people in mental health crisis. It costs a lot less to help someone than to incarcerate them, or put them in intensive care for a week, or send them to a drug rehab center every week or two.

Ideally, such help will help people break the cycle of homelessness, addiction and mental illness, but it will not always be the case. Despite the best efforts of well-meaning and compassionate professionals and volunteers, some people do not improve.

But we cannot let perfection be the enemy of good. Rochester is fortunate to have a network of organizations and individuals making great strides in filling some of the cracks that the less fortunate can fall through – and with flu season and a second COVID winter looming , There’s no time to lose.


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