Bringing health care to the homeless, student street medicine team earn $57,000 grant | Local News

A student led Street Medicine program has been awarded a $57,000 grant from the DMC Foundation to expand its work with homeless populations in the Pontiac area.

The program is the first of its kind in Oakland County, bringing over 55 Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine medical students to shelters and social service centers to treat acute medical problems, wherever the patients are.

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Tori Drzyzga packaging medications at Hope Warming Center in Pontiac. 

With backpacks full of medical supplies and physicians from Beaumont overseeing their work, the students are equipped to treat a myriad of ailments and illnesses. From joint pain, rashes and inflammation to more serious chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and substance use disorders — The students can either assist the patients on site or refer them to a low cost or no cost health clinic in Pontiac.

It was launched late last year by Tori Drzyzga and Lexie Ranski, both fourth year medical students studying to become family doctors. They were introduced to Street Medicine while in undergraduate programs at Wayne State University. The program is recognized worldwide with best practices overseen by the Street Medicine Institute.

“People want the homeless and those who don’t trust the health care system to just fit into what already exists, and they blame them for not getting treated. But it’s the other way around,” Ranski said. “The health care system should be facilitating for these people. We need to redefine our system if we’re going to reach those who need care.”

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Tori Drzyzga (left) and Lexie Ranski, both fourth students studying family medicine at Oakland University and founders of the areas new Street Medicine Program.  

While the students can’t prescribe medication for mental health issues or long term illnesses, they can help unsheltered residents refill certain prescriptions, make an appointment with a specialist, fill out food assistance benefits and more.

The program was initially launched with a $3,000 grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation. Its newest grant will go toward purchasing telemedicine backpacks that will allow the students to connect patients with physicians and specialists through a laptop.

When the backpacks aren’t in use by the students, they’ll be utilized at the Gary Burnstein Community Clinic in Pontiac, one of the two clinics the program refers patients to. Chemistry kits for blood testing will also be available through the grant.

“The whole mission of Street Medicine is to meet your patients where they’re at, on their terms, and help them in the ways they ask you to help them,” Dryzga said. “Over time we would meet the same people over and over again, and they would open up and tell us about their heartburn, the falls they had.”

Every Friday, six students would travel to either the Hope Warming Center, the county’s only emergency shelter with a low barrier for entry, or The Baldwin Center, a social services center that aims to help feed, clothe and empower residents. The number of students had to be reduced in March as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, but the program continued with an emphasis on educating patients on how they could stay safe.

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Shirts worn by the Street Medicine team as they participate in outreach events. 

“This is about the decentralization of the point of care. In the big picture of medicine, physicians used to go to patients’ homes, but that was largely reserved for wealthier people who could afford it,” Jason Wasserman, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Foundational Medical Studies and Department of Pediatrics at the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine and the program’s advisor, said.

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The Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine Street Medicine leadership team, from left to right: Kaitlin Pataroque, Tori Drzyzga, Nick Ang and Lexie Ranski. 

“As medical technology and our ability to treat patients changed, there came a need to centralize. You couldn’t carry around an x-ray machine. So now, we have the impoverished being separated from care. We’re trying to capture the community that was marginalized.”

The program is also supported by the Oakland County Homeless Healthcare Collaboration and Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness.

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