When Good Hearts Help: Medical Team Rallies to Lift the Homeless, Hungry and Hurting
There are times when patients arrive early for their appointments. But when a worn and weary-looking man showed up eight hours ahead of schedule, the staff at OCH in The Dalles couldn’t help but take extra notice of this patient.
“He was definitely looking rough and shabby,” said Electra Curl, CMA. “He asked if we could see him early and that he didn’t want to be out in the heat later because he had to walk to and from the clinic for his appointment. We told him we’d do whatever we could to help him out.”
There was an immediate opening in the schedule so staff ushered him back to an exam room to see Art Ticknor, MD. Upon examination, Art noticed the man’s paper-thin clothes literally stuck to his raw, dirty skin that had been scorched and blistered by sun, heat and other elements. Homeless and living on the streets, the patient’s undergarments were stained with blood, his bottom preventing him from sitting without pain.
“I told him, ‘I think you’d feel better if we cleaned you up a bit,’” said Dr. Ticknor, a longtime physician at OCH who moved to the East Coast in summer 2017. “And he told me he would appreciate if we could help him out. After treating him for his medical needs, I turned him over to our team.”
But these OCH staff members didn’t just step in to help. They jumped into action, going above and beyond the scope of normal duty. Electra and Maria Mendiola, Clinical Support Coordinator, gathered supplies—towels, basins, soaps, scissors and more. Together, they gently sponge-bathed the patient, taking extra care to not hurt his sensitive skin, using towels to ensure his privacy. Nelson Hernandez-Rosales, RN, came forward to cut and clean the man’s nails. The team also trimmed his beard and hair.
“It was really hard to see,” Maria said. “I’d never actually seen someone up close like that, who was hurting and homeless. I knew he was in so much pain. I just wanted to make sure I could do whatever I could do to take care of him.”
While the ladies were caring for him, they learned more about the patient, a chronic alcoholic. He opened up about his hardships, including how people have been mean to him in his homelessness and that his few possessions had recently been stolen. Just the night before, he’d sought medical treatment elsewhere in the area but was released in the same condition in which he had arrived.
And yet here, at OCH, depth of care did not end with medical treatment. Nor did it end with the hygiene cleanup. More help came as these and other staff workers, along with Danel Hoidal, CMA, Rebecca Garrett, RN, Maria Acevedo, CHW, and Ashlyn Vissers, CMA, pitched in, providing more time, energy and, in some cases, their own money to support this patient’s most basic needs.
With the most flexibility in her schedule, Ashlyn took the $70 that the staff donated out of their own pockets to go buy the patient numerous snacks and a small backpack in which to haul the food. She and Maria Acevedo also happily took a trip to K-Mart, where they bought him comfortable clothes to wear, things they knew he needed.
“I thought it was all so cool,” Ashlyn said. “I didn’t have any cash on hand to donate that day but thought everyone I work with here is so amazing to help out like this. It says a lot about our organization.”
Dr. Ticknor agrees, recalling that he was blown away when he heard about all the staff did, rallying out of the kindness of their hearts—not just out of duty—to ensure this patient walked out of OCH feeling genuinely supported.
“We can get caught up sometimes in the 20-minute visit, getting people in and out,” he said. “But it seemed like this was a situation that needed extra care. I had to move on to see other patients so left it to the team. I was amazed at how everyone stepped up—it was that ‘human touch.’ And they were really great.”
As for the patient, he came in feeling hopeless and left feeling like he mattered on that hot day in The Dalles.
“I feel like a kid on Christmas,” he said, smiling back at those who cared for him. And yet, truth be told, he wasn’t the only one brimming with joy from the transformation. It changed those who did the giving.
As Electra explained, “We work quite a bit with the homeless people who come in for multiple things. But after he left, my heard felt good, almost like a weight was lifted. We did something really good…and I don't think everybody gets to say that about their job.”