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Doctor To The Homeless Practices What She Calls Street Medicine


All this week, we've been hearing the voices of doctors and nurses putting their health at great risk. For some health care workers, the front line for the pandemic is a hospital or a clinic. But for Dr. Catherine Crosland, it's the street.

CATHERINE CROSLAND: Housing is health care. Homelessness is a public health crisis. COVID-19 brings that into stark relief.

INSKEEP: Crosland directs homeless outreach development at Unity Health Care in Washington, D.C.


Her patients don't have homes to go to. Many of them live in tents. Others go to shelters where social distancing is really difficult.

CROSLAND: Often, the dormitories in which folks live can have up to 100 people in one single room. And these folks are living, sleeping, breathing the same air, sharing the same bathrooms. And the risks for spread in these sorts of settings are tremendous.

KING: Dr. Crosland does her medical rounds outside, where she practices what she calls street medicine. Health officials are telling people to stay home. But, obviously, her patients can't do that.

CROSLAND: It's impossible to do that if you don't have a home to go to.

INSKEEP: When she checks on her patients, she carries a backpack that holds basic equipment. She checks blood pressure and provides medication, as well as doing this.

CROSLAND: We're asking specifically about fever, cough or shortness of breath.

KING: If a person has 2 out of 3 of those coronavirus symptoms, then she refers them for testing.

CROSLAND: The city has made arrangements for anybody who is identified as having symptoms to go to a place where they can be tested and quarantined until those test results come back.

KING: Crosland says most of her patients do know about the coronavirus. And they're worried about how to stay safe.

INSKEEP: But without consistent housing, that is tough. And like every other community, some of Crosland's patients might be asymptomatic, carrying the virus without knowing it.

CROSLAND: If we do start rolling out universal testing, I would absolutely urge the leaders in Washington, D.C., to prioritize people living in shelters, encampments and then jail because of the incredible risk for spread of this highly contagious infection.

INSKEEP: Dr. Catherine Crosland provides health care services for people who are homeless. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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