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Nurses Take Health Care to the Homeless

Nursing students teach proper foot care to patients in homeless shelters in Fayetteville. (Eleanor Mann School of Nursing)
Nursing students teach proper foot care to patients in homeless shelters in Fayetteville. (Eleanor Mann School of Nursing)
June 6, 2016

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – An innovative community nursing program in Fayetteville is being called such a success that it may be expanded to other communities around the state.

Nursing students have been holding health fairs for two semesters at the city's homeless shelter, doing blood pressure and blood sugar checks, testing for HIV, and providing a lot of information about women's health care, affordable insurance and proper use of medications.

Susan Patton, assistant director of Undergraduate Programs for the University of Arkansas, says mostly the students do a lot of one-on-one consultations, talking to the patients to get a better understanding of their health care needs.

"Without understanding what kind of home environment they come from, it's easy to be judgmental: 'Well, you just need to eat better,' or 'You just need to get more rest,'” she states. “But understanding the circumstances that they live in helps them (nurses) to approach the patient from where they are and be more realistic."

Patton says the Community Nursing Program is modeled after similar programs in Boston and Los Angeles.

She says becoming a nurse takes more than classroom learning. It's also about understanding the unique needs of each patient.

"They go from this structured nature of an acute care hospital or long-term center to this much less structured, population-based health care, and it really stretches their clinical imagination because they get to see, you know, how people really live," Patton explains.

The students focus on issues that are prevalent with the homeless, including sunburn and insect bites, hydration, proper use of medication and taking care of their feet.

During this past semester, the students used social media to hold a shoe drive for their patients.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there were more than 2,500 homeless people in Arkansas last year, with more than 200 being veterans.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - AR