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Physician Brings Decades of Hospital Experience to the Streets of Chicago

Ralph-min Dr. Ralph Ryan consults with a patient on a chilly Saturday while making the rounds with the Street Medicine Team. Photo by Lloyd DeGrane.

After 35 years as an interventional cardiologist in Michigan, Dr. Ralph Ryan is now practicing on the streets of Chicago.

Ryan provides free health care to individuals who are experiencing homelessness, as a volunteer physician with The Night Ministry's Outreach and Health Ministry Program, most often on the Street Medicine Team.

Being part of a team, with an Outreach Professional, Case Manager, and other volunteers, Ryan said, allows him to devote his attention to his patients' health.

"It frees me up to focus on providing medical care, knowing that the other needs of the clients are being met at the same time," he said.

Ryan and his wife, Denise, who volunteers on the Health Outreach Bus, connected with The Night Ministry after they moved to the Chicago area in 2017. His parents were long-time supporters of the agency's mission.

Ryan, who is also a health care provider at PCC Austin Family Health Center, a free clinic on Chicago's West side, said he approaches his patients as equals.

"They are me. These are truly my sisters and brothers, and their needs are my needs," he said.

Providing health care on the streets has its challenges. Patients often do not prioritize what could be serious health issues, Ryan said.

"That just requires different levels of meeting them where they are. What can I do to earn your trust and be in your space to do what I can to help you get served?"

Ryan says volunteering with The Night Ministry has given him insights into problems with the public health system.

"We're running across people who have had their heart valves replaced because of infection due to heroin injection, and they are back on the street using heroin. These are critical cardiology questions I had to address as a contending cardiologist for years on the hospital side. And now I'm seeing the other side where there's this gap of care," he said.

"What do we do for these folks? We release them back to homelessness and drug injection. It's a real ethical problem."

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