Chicago Street Medicine welcomes new chapter

Loyola joins as group’s 4th programMembers pose with care packages

October 18, 2021

In early October, Loyola University Chicago’s Street Medicine program was approved by the Chicago Street Medicine (CSM) Board to become the fourth chapter in the CSM program, which began as a student-led idea. Using an inter-disciplinary and community-based approach, CSM provides health care to people experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. As a CSM member and co-collaborator, the Loyola chapter will have access to a broad network and the ability to adopt policies and procedures to make the chapter uniquely Loyola.

Founded nearly three years ago by M4s Veronica Gonzalez, Sofia Ruiz-Castaneda, and Maria Young, today the Loyola Street Medicine program partners with Housing Forward, the Night Ministry, and CSM to care for clients. The Night Ministry provides a social worker to talk with clients and assess their need for additional services. It also maintains a food and hygiene area for clients. Loyola’s Street Medicine team – consisting of Loyola physicians, nurses, and Stritch students, meet clients where they are, either at the Forest Park Blue Line train station or at the Write Inn in Oak Park.

“Learning from a mixed team of nurses, social workers, and MDs will make me a better physician, said Gonzalez. “I see medicine as a team sport and Emergency Medicine as the specialty that treats the community. It’s part of my call to medicine to be a contributing member of my community,” she said.

Through weekly clinics, the Loyola team sees about 60 people at the Forest Park station and 40 people at the Write Inn. Ranging in age from 27 to 69, many of these clients have not had stable housing for more than five years, which is consistent with local and national statistics. The team sees clients with a variety of needs – from blood pressure and glucose checks to medication, wound care, and COVID-19 shots. Clients who have connected to more stable housing through Housing Forward are better able to maintain their health.

“The opportunity to collaborate with Housing Forward, the Night Ministry, and various other student and community organizations, has really taught me how essential partnerships are to serving a community,” said M3 Amy Paul.

For Program Advisor and Medical co-Director Dr. Theresa Nguyen, what has surprised her the most is the level of student interest and support in serving the local homeless population. “Dr. Kevin Boblick (Loyola Street Medicine’s other Medical co-Director) and I are so overwhelmed and encouraged by student participation,” she said. “When we released the sign-up sheet for the CTA Blue Line outreach and the Write Inn medical clinic, the student spots filled within minutes.”

As an Emergency Medicine physician, Dr. Nguyen often sees repeat visits from homeless patients who seek care for a variety of chief complaints. “They are often stigmatized and overlooked,” she said. “Yet I am reminded that each person has their own unique challenges and it is important for us to address some of these unmet needs.”

The Loyola CSM team tracks client encounters and other data to help identify needs and monitor program success. One of the key findings confirmed what Dr.Nguyen sees in her daily work: when asked where else they would seek care, many clients said they would go to the Emergency Department.

Reaching — and providing care to people where they are — is a first step in building trust and eventually, to ongoing primary care and better health over the long term.

Volunteer and learn more about Loyola’s Street Medicine Team.