Doctors Without Walls Taking It to the Streets

In response to Chris Meagher’s article Better for Weather: Medical Care and Supplies offered to Homeless”, the volunteers of Doctors Without Walls—Santa Barbara Street Medicine (DWW-SBSM) wish to respond to his concluding sentence: “The hope is to one day have a mobile clinic that can go and meet the homeless where they are on the street.”

Since 2005, DWW-SBSMs multidisciplinary teams have faithfully carried out the mission of our non-profit organization: providing free, volunteer medical care for the most vulnerable, where and when they are in need, including in times of disaster. DWW-SBSM’s multidisciplinary teams comprised of doctors, nurses, medical professionals, social workers and students—all volunteers— meet and seek out the most vulnerable unsheltered people in our town, providing backpack-based medical care and referrals to community resources. DWW-SBSM street medicine teams provide excellent care for hundreds of unsheltered patients each year: More than 500 homeless patients were seen and treated in 2010, including 120 with bacterial infections.

Since 2009 DWW-SBSM has deployed an Inclement Weather Protocol during freezing and stormy weather, sending our teams on foot to seek out people in need of shelter, and transporting them to facilities with available beds using the Easy lift Loaner vans. In this way, DWW-SBSM supports the network of warming centers throughout Santa Barbara and focuses much needed street outreach towards the people most at risk of dying unsheltered.

In addition to the DWWSBSM street medicine programs in Santa Barbara (Wednesday nights) and Isla Vista (Monday Nights), DWW-SBSM provides care to unsheltered homeless women at our Women’s Free Homeless Clinic, which takes place bimonthly (the 2nd and 4th Fridays of every month) in partnership with Transition House and the Organic Soup Kitchen.

While we are dedicated to addressing the needs of people suffering from the chronic disaster of homelessness, we also remain devoted to the practice of medicine during acute disasters. To this end, we are very proud to be the non-governmental (NGO) partners for the volunteer-based Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) of Santa Barbara County. In this partnership with the Emergency Medical Services Agency of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, our street medical teams are trained and ready to assist all of the citizens of our community in times of disaster—when we all might become homeless.

Crister Brady, DWW-SBSM street medicine program coordinator

Jessielee Coley, DWW-SBSM student volunteer coordinator

Mimi Doohan MD, DWW-SBSM founder and medical director

Jennifer Ferraez LCSW, DWW-SBSM mental health team leader

Jason Prystowsky MD, DWW-SBSM street team leader and boardmember

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