Healthcare for Flint’s homeless: Why McLaren physicians learned from an expert

Author: McLaren Flint

Dr. Jim Withers, an internationally renowned expert physician on treating the homeless and the founder of the Street Medicine Institute, lead McLaren Flint doctors in a “classroom of the streets” to help unhoused patients receive medical care on August 4. His visit included a lecture, a small group discussion at Carriage Town Ministries health care clinic, and an effort to find and reach out to those living on the city’s streets.

Dr. Withers has been teaching street medicine and treating the homeless for nearly 30 years. His teaching began in Pittsburgh and in 2009 he and other leaders in this field of medicine started the Street Medicine Institute (SMI), a nonprofit organization that facilitates and enhances the direct provision of health care to the unsheltered homeless where they live. SMI does this by providing communities and clinicians with expert training, guidance, and support to develop and grow their own Street Medicine programs.

“Words are not enough to describe what Dr. Jim Withers has been doing for the last three decades to help those who need our help the most and are often excluded from medical care for many different reasons,” said Dr. Prabhat K. Pokhrel, Family Medicine Residency Program Director at McLaren Flint. “We have been partnering with Carriage Town Ministries helping to take care of patients experiencing homelessness and would like to expand our services to those who are living on the street.

“No one, in my opinion, can teach these unique skills to us better than Dr. Jim Withers.”

McLaren Flint Family Medicine Residency Program, with the help of the McLaren Flint Foundation and the Graduate Medical Office, has started its own street medicine curriculum to teach family medicine residents how to take care of people experiencing homelessness. The connection with Dr. Withers was made by McLaren Flint Family Medicine Resident Meghana Swamy, MD.

“About a year ago, Dr. Pokhrel talked to me about helping him come up with a blueprint for starting a street medicine curriculum for our family medicine residency program,” said Dr. Swamy. “I read an article about Dr. Withers, watched many of his videos, and decided to reach out to him directly. His work as a humanitarian is phenomenal. We are so grateful he spent a day with us here in Flint.”

SMI has become the global leader in developing the field and practice of street medicine and has helped cultivate or improve programs in over 140 cities in 27 countries across six continents.

SMI is also a membership community that enables professionals and other individuals interested in the street medicine movement to come together to provide peer support, share best practices, seek advice and learn about key concepts necessary for a successful program.

“I am excited to see the combination of service and medical education in McLaren Flint’s program,” said Dr. Withers. “The leadership and residents have a real heart to expand these services to help the homeless population in Flint. Going directly to this unique group of individuals not only helps them get healthcare but can also lead to them getting housing and the other things they deserve.”