The Dorothy Rider Pool Health Care Trust Gives LVHN $200,000 for Street Medicine Program
A typical work day for Brett Feldman is both surprising and inspiring. The 33-year-old physician assistant with Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) might deliver medications to men at the Allentown Rescue Mission; trudge through the woods to help winterize a homeless camp; or provide primary health services to the needy in a Bethlehem soup kitchen. He often does all three, pouring himself into serving the 10,000 homeless people of the Lehigh Valley, who generally are overlooked or out of sight.
Feldman is one of 60 “street medicine” practitioners in the U.S. offering the unconventional, yet essential care to some of society’s most needy and underserved population. His mantra is, “You have to go to the people, meet them where they feel safe.”
His efforts focus on softening these impacts of homelessness:
• Studies show the average life expectancy of homeless individuals to be 49 years.
• Homelessness is associated with higher medical complication rates, and longer and more frequent hospital admissions.
• The homeless have a length of stay almost twice as long as their housed counterparts and are more than twice as likely to be readmitted following a recent hospital stay.
Feldman’s program recently received a boost in the form of a two-year, $200,000 grant from The Dorothy Rider Pool Health Care Trust. The funds will support the efforts of the more than 100 individuals working in the program, promote interest in street medicine and develop ways to provide mental health/behavioral health services.
“To be a truly and exemplary healthy community means caring for all of us, and doing the often hard, but always right thing,” said Edward F. Meehan, MPH, Executive Director of the Dorothy Rider Pool Health Care Trust. “The Pool Trust applauds LVHN’s leadership role in community health and, in particular, their work that includes the most marginalized and disenfranchised members of the community. We should all be grateful for Mr. Feldman’s example and hope that his efforts are viewed as the better angels of our nature.” Feldman first took to the Allentown streets as a volunteer nine years ago while a student at DeSales University. After helping launch a free medical clinic at the Allentown Rescue Mission, he realized his true passion and chose this path full-time.
“All I need to do my job is a backpack and stethoscope,” explains Feldman, who says his role involves 20 percent medical care and 80 percent care for and about the homeless. He takes with him basic medical supplies and medications, clothing, water and other items that will help his patients get by for another day, week or month.
In October, 2013, Feldman and some 60 colleagues from LVHN started providing free, weekly healthcare to residents of the Safe Harbor Shelter in Easton. Approximately, 150 people drop in daily for services, most of whom have no routine medical care. They’re mostly uninsured, lack transportation and rarely trust the healthcare system.
Feldman has learned that mutual trust must precede any interaction regardless of the circumstance or setting. By helping the medically frail homeless to access care through six free, on-site clinics in shelters and soup kitchens, LVHN saw thirty-day readmission rates drop from 50.8 percent to 21 percent in the first six months of the street medicine program.
Feldman aims to treat the whole person and help him on his path to find a job and a place to live. In some cases, he’s the bridge between the street and hospital, arranging for seriously sick people to receive care that can’t be provided in a shelter or on a street corner.
That was the case of a 52-year-old homeless man diagnosed with terminal cancer, who chose to forego treatment. Though the man was a long-time tent-dweller, Feldman secured an apartment for him. Along with a hospice nurse, he provided the patient palliative care and medications for pain control. He reserved a bed for the man in the hospice unit at Lehigh Valley Hospital for his final days, and tried to arrange a reunion between the patient and his estranged teenage son before the man died.
“My hope is to help every homeless person in the Lehigh Valley get medical care and emotional support that all human beings deserve,” Feldman says. He’s doing his part toward that goal, one day and one patient at a time.
Lehigh Valley Health Network includes five hospital campuses – three in Allentown including the region’s only facility dedicated to orthopedic surgery, one in Bethlehem and one in Hazleton, Pa.; 13 health centers caring for communities in five counties; numerous primary and specialty care physician practices throughout the region; pharmacy, imaging, home health services and lab services; and preferred provider services through Valley Preferred. Specialty care includes: trauma care at the region’s busiest, most-experienced trauma center treating adults and children, burn care at the regional Burn Center, kidney and pancreas transplants; perinatal/neonatal, cardiac, cancer care, and neurology and complex neurosurgery capabilities including national certification as a Comprehensive Stroke Center. Children’s Hospital at Lehigh Valley Hospital, the only children’s hospital in the region, provides care in 28 specialties and general pediatrics. Lehigh Valley Health Network has been recognized by US News & World Report for 20 consecutive years as one of America’s Best Hospitals and is a national Magnet hospital for excellence in nursing. Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Cancer Center is the only cancer center in the region to have been selected as a National Cancer Center Community Cancer Centers Program (NCCCP, 2010-14). Additional information is available at lvhn.org.