Red Deer’s street nurse program has evolved to help homeless clients better manage chronic disease like diabetes and high blood pressure.
Nurse practitioner Marlee MacDonald said wound care, like abrasions or abscesses, is still the No. 1 reason why people visit the clinic that runs in the Turning Point building at 4611 50th Ave.
“A lot of these folks walk and walk and walk all day. It’s hard on their feet and it’s hard on their skin to be outside,” MacDonald said.
But now clients have the opportunity to look at improving their overall health by managing chronic disease.
“It’s opening that door and establishing a relationship so that hopefully we can encourage them to look further at health promotion.”
Red Deer Primary Care Network has funded the street nurse program since September 2008 to improve health-care access for people who may be homeless, dealing with drug addictions or mental health issues, and have difficulty getting the services they need.
Central Albert AIDS Network Society is providing the clinic space and Alberta Health Services supplies the medical supplies and equipment.
MacDonald treats patients in consultation with network physicians and she can perform physical exams, order diagnostics, prescribe some medication, make referrals and can provide a limited amount of over-the-counter medication.
She can also help patients navigate through the health-care system to get other needed services.
Visits to the street nurse about increased to about 36 per week. People come because there are no barriers to access, McDonald said.
“A lot of them have experienced long waits at the emergency because a lot of their concerns are not urgent care. Whether it may be a mental health issue or addictions, they’re just not likely to sit and wait that long.”
MacDonald wants to reach out to more women. Statistics show males are twice as likely to visit the clinic.
“It’s the direct opposite of mainstream health care. At this point, we haven’t identified truly what some of the barriers might be. I think there certainly is a great need.”
The average client is now in their mid-30s, about 10 years younger than those who used the clinic last summer.
About three times a year the clinic offers a “tune-up” so clients can see MacDonald, get a hot lunch, a hair cut, access foot care, see the public health nurse for immunization and representatives from other community agencies, and get supplies like sunscreen in the summer and mitts in the winter.
“The turnout is always really good,” MacDonald said.
Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, executive director for the Central Alberta AIDS Network Society, which is also located at Turning Point, said the street nurse has had a positive impact on the health of people in need.
The primary care network street nurse program is a good fit with CAANS, she said.
“Because she can test for HIV, that’s huge for us. When people call us, we can tell them about this additional option. It certainly makes sense to have someone who can test right on site,” Vanderschaeghe said.
Regular clinic hours for the street nurse are Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.