Karen Brugno, a dental hygienist for Rochester Regional Health’s Health Reach for the Homeless Program offers her perspective of this service we offer.
I have been a Dental Hygienist for 19 years and a few years ago, I decided to leave the comfort zone of private practice and embark on the most rewarding, exciting job of my career. I work on the Mobile Medical Unit (MMU) three days a week. Our team of dental, medical, case management, mental health, nutrition and insurance enrollment professionals travel to homeless shelters in the city to provide services to some of the more than 8,000 homeless people. Our services also extend beyond the mobile unit into the shelters.
Many of our patients have complex issues outside of dental health. Some have diabetes and heart disease and other conditions while others deal with drug addiction, domestic violence, PTSD and other mental illness. Whether it is because of these or past experience with being treated unfairly, trust can be an issue for them and a barrier to the proper care they need. We try to provide a safe place they can come not only to care for the body but for peace of mind.
What makes this job so rewarding is unlike other mobile units, we provide not only medical/dental treatment, but also clothing and hygiene items (many times they are stolen from them in shelters) patients cannot buy with government assistance. We connect these patients with resources needed to get off the streets including mental health counseling, job and housing assistance and insurance enrollment. Our entire team works collaboratively to make this happen. .
When a patient comes aboard the MMU, I may not be just completing dental treatment, but assisting them in another aspect of needed services, which has really expanded my knowledge of the whole health care treatment Rochester Regional Health provides to our patients. Some of our patients begin to trust us and share their difficult stories with us. One of my patients came to the unit saying he had a history of strokes and high blood pressure. He said every night when he laid down he had discomfort in his chest. After much encouragement, he did see a doctor and the doctor confirmed he had had a heart attack. The patient did recover and is doing much better. I feel that if our MMU was not outside the shelter, and he did not encounter us, his outcome would have been different.
Another one of my patients was very guarded and not trusting due to his childhood of daily mental and physical abuse. I completed his dental treatment and connected him with case management. He came back to see us at the MMU and his physical appearance was so different. He not only looked healthier, but he was smiling and very social. We were able to get him into an apartment and a job interview. I cannot explain how rewarding and encouraging it is to see our patients transform.
I have connected many patients with our phenomenal case management team for assistance in jobs and housing. These are just a few of the many stories of Health Reach for the Homeless team. We are more than medical personnel to our patients. We are a path to new beginnings and a ray of hope in their darkest hours.