Nursing students join GRIP outreach efforts at Richmond encampments

Nursing students join outreach efforts at Richmond encampments
GRIP has partnered with the nursing program at San Francisco State University to send nursing students with outreach teams to Richmond homeless encampments. (All photos and video by Mike Kinney)

By Mike Kinney

Home is where your family is. And that’s where it has needed to be for 83-year-old Doretha Hall, her daughter Denise, 53, and her two grandsons ages 31 and 30.

Since September, the Hall family has been living along Rydin Road close to the Point Isabel Dog Park. Their home is a broken down 2004 Ford Escalade.

According to Doretha, the family once lived in a rental home in the Belding-Woods neighborhood for 14 years until their landlord was forced into foreclosure in 2018.

The Hall family says they’ve been calling 211 daily, trying to get into a hotel serving the homeless. Thankfully on Thursday, the family received an unsolicited visit from a group of outreach workers that included nursing students from San Francisco State University.

The outreach team’s visit didn’t just lead to the possibility of housing for the Hall family, but also unearthed concerning information about Doretha’s health.

The nursing students checked Doretha’s blood pressure and became concerned over her risk for a stroke or heart attack. After hearing the health assessment, Antwon Cloird, who supervises the outreach team, started working his phone, searching  housing options. Because she is considered high-risk for serious illness should she contract COVID-19, Doretha is eligible to stay at one of the hotels being used to house the homeless during the pandemic, according to Cloird.

Tonight, the Hall family was set to move into the Courtyard Marriott in Hilltop, where they will not only get off the street but be connected to basic needs and resources, Cloird said.

Amid a pandemic that has placed the homeless population as among the highest risk for life-threatening illness, the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP) is finding added utility in its recent partnership with SFSU’s nursing program.

Starting last year, nursing students have been joining GRIP outreach teams to provide basic needs, such as food and toiletries, along with medical care for the city’s homeless population. The timing of the partnership, right before a global pandemic, couldn’t have been more critical.

Bi-weekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays, a team of nursing students assist at encampments by providing blood pressure, respiratory and temperature checks, flu shots, masks and other health services and supplies.

In addition, the students provide health information, including guidance on COVID-19. They are credited with putting together a food and nutrition survey for families currently residing at Marriott Courtyard hotel in Hilltop, which is being used to house vulnerable homeless residents amid the pandemic.

The partnership inccludes four students this semester, according to GRIP Executive Director Kathleen Sullivan. This year, one of the nursing students, Landrith Parker, is a Richmond resident.

“They are definitely needed here,” Sullivan said. “We signed a two-year agreement with SFSU Community Health Nurses to provide these essential services.”

With help from the nursing students, outreach teams can better assess the needs of people at encampments, provide preventative care and determine whether they qualify for certain services, such as emergency housing at a local hotel, Sullivan said.

“They may not even know they [qualify for hotel housing] because they are out there and very sick,” she said. “And the outreach team may have missed them.”

The nursing students see the outreach at Richmond encampments as mutually beneficial.

“It takes you to the most basic level of human interaction…this is something we cannot learn in school,” said Mary James, who is in her fourth year of nursing school and her second semester in Community Nursing. “We learn about medicine, we learn about diagnosis, but to actually learn how to reach people on a personal level, we are getting that experience with GRIP.”

The outreach has been the definition of the healthcare expression, “Meet the patient where they are at,” added Stephen Haydon, a level four Bachelor of Nursing Science student.

It’s also about letting struggling members of the community know they are not forgotten.

“Making sure they know we are here, that we see them and that we are doing our very best to help them,” said Jennie Dilley, a senior nursing student who will graduate in December.

The students have been a blessing for GRIP’s outreach efforts, Sullivan said. Sullivan credited one of GRIP’s partners, Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church in Hilltop, for connecting GRIP to the college program.

“We are a faith-based coalition,” Sullivan said. “And without the coalitions, we would have not been able to do this.”