Sandra Collins's job as a Nurse Practitioner with The Night Ministry's Street Medicine Program dovetails with her work as a firefighter with the City of Chicago. "Both careers put me in the position to help people in times of distress," Collins said. "At the firehouse, I am also a paramedic and see some of the same health issues and even some of the same people."
Collins is part of a team that also includes a Case Manager and Outreach Professional. Together, they travel the city, visiting individuals living in encampments. Collins provides immediate medical care for such health issues as asthma, sinus and skin infections, and body aches. "We also educate people on proper hand hygiene and use of medication," she said, "and we talk about signs of worsening illnesses such as fever or difficulty breathing."
According to Collins, there is no typical day for the Street Medicine Team. "We get calls throughout the day from clients letting us know if they need medical care or even supplies, and we change our route," she said. "We also sometimes have to take people to the emergency room."
"We even have days where clients have relocated," she said, "and we look for them based on what other people tell us. We also search for new encampments based on word of mouth or things each of us has seen on our off days."
Collins said she has developed trusting relationships with the clients she encounters on a regular basis. "We discuss how and why they got to where they are today. We discuss family life and talk about the last time they called their parents or loved ones to let them know they are okay."
"Several people have even called and talked to their loved ones on our phones," she added.
Street Medicine began as a pilot project in 2016 and is now a permanent part of The Night Ministry's Outreach and Health Ministry Program.