Street Medicine Brings Care to Patients, Where They Need It
By Maeve O’Connor
Darkness and dropping temperatures didn’t stop a group of healthcare providers from gathering last week in a local park to offer health services to people in need. That’s what Doctors Without Walls – Santa Barbara Street Medicine has done since 2005, harnessing the power of volunteer nurses, doctors, and medical students to provide critical health care to those living without permanent housing in Santa Barbara County, California.
Among the first street medicine programs to be established in the United States, Doctors Without Walls operates an average of 14 outreach events per week, traveling to local parks and beaches to treat individuals needing health services.
Each Thursday evening, Doctors Without Walls and more than 20 other community organizations gather to provide services, including free hot meals, transportation, and mental health services. During their most recent event, Doctors Without Walls team set up a few intake tables, each assigned with individual scribes to record patients’ information.
Patients are then triaged and assigned to treatment tables, outfitted with Direct Relief field medic packs, which contain essential items needed for wound care and triage, PPE, over-the-counter medications, and are often customized with frequently requested prescription drugs. The packs are requested globally to provide care in improvised settings, and hundreds have been sent this year to places including the frontlines of the war in Ukraine to first responders in hurricane-devastated Florida and Puerto Rico.
Providers with Doctors Without Walls use the packs to treat people where they are for various conditions ranging from skin infections, respiratory and hypertension conditions and more.
They also distribute Direct Relief-donated personal care items like soap and basic hygiene products.
“We function as an urgent care, but our goal is to transition everyone to primary care, ultimately making our services obsolete,” said Dr. Chelsea Dean, a volunteer physician for Doctors Without Walls.
Direct Relief has provided medical support to Doctors Without Walls since 2008, including field medic packs, personal protective equipment, essential medications, including antibiotics and medicines for chronic disease management, personal care items and more.