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OSF's ‘street medicine’ shuttle strives to deliver care to people in need

Randall McClallen says bringing some warmth and care to Peorians battling housing insecurity is challenging, but rewarding.

“I enjoy working with the populations that we serve,” McClallen said. “It's a lot of hard work, but it's just nice to be able to touch people's hearts and to make them feel better and to let them know that people do care about them and that they are loved.”

As an OSF HealthCare faith community nurse, McClallen drives a shuttle for the Street Medicine Program.

“I drive around mostly in the downtown area — the 61604, 61603, and 61605 zip codes — and I look for people who are homeless,” he said. “I stop and offer them, if they need any services or anything like that. I have clothing, blankets, winter items — and now in the colder weather, I'll have maybe hot chocolate or hot coffee or tea to offer them — and see what kind of medical needs that they need.”

When someone does have a medical issue that needs to be addressed, McClallen gets them in contact with Dr. Mary Stapel, the medical director for community care at OSF Saint Francis, who is able to give medical attention or referrals.

Stapel said that facility shutdowns and reduced access during the COVID-19 pandemic made it more difficult for them to reach the individuals in need.

“With closures, we just found that we needed to find another way to get to patients,” said Stapel. “I think the whole kind of history and the premise of street medicine is taking care to people where they are, and these are often folks that wouldn't otherwise access the health care system at all.”

While OSF launched the street medicine program in July of 2020, they just received their new shuttle in late August. During a blessing for the shuttle on Thursday, Sister Judith Ann Duvall, chair of the boards for OSF HealthCare, directed her comments to the program operators.

“I couldn't be more thankful for you,” said Duvall. “This very sacred ministry that you've been called to engage, and I'm so very, very proud of you. Not all could do the work that you do.”

“We are so proud of all that has been accomplished. We feel the support of administration, the sisters and the community and caring for those who need,” added Susie Smith, the manager of ambulatory nursing for OSF Saint Francis who oversees the faith community nurses. “It is amazing what can be done with few people, a strong mission and great determination.”

Stapel said local estimates suggest more than 300 people in the Peoria area are struggling with housing insecurity.

“I think we could say that estimate is a little bit low. I think unsheltered individuals, we've already encountered well over 100, so the need is there,” said Stapel. “In fact, we're kind of seeing a growing need because we're starting to find people in less traditional places like abandoned houses. We're finding that there are a lot of people who have a lot of difficulty accessing care.”

Stapel said the street medicine program offers treatment for several conditions, from blood pressure care and chronic disease management to preventive care screenings to wound care and infections.

“We just have to gauge: is this something we can handle out where we are, and if so it might prevent an ER visit or even a hospital stay? Or is this something we need to send the patient in for? Then in that case, we can do that too,” she said.

McClallen stressed the program is focused on providing basic health care services, adding the number of clients he assists varies from day to day.

“It can range from two to four, to maybe 10 or 20 people I serve,” he said. “Not everyone that I see are homeless living on the streets; they may have been homeless and are living with somebody else now, which is what we call ‘couch surfing,’ or they may have been housed (previously) but they still need additional services.”

McClallen said he occasionally encounters some hesitancy among those he wants to assist.

“A lot of our patients have had a history of maybe not being treated very well by other health care services, or just the public in general, and so they're a little bit cautious,” he said. “Then once they find out the services that you're offering or providing, most of the time they're very (accepting) of that. Sometimes they don't need the services, which is fine, but they do know that we're out here.”

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