Mobile Clinic provides care to homeless

Samuel Cohen, a senior majoring in health promotion and disease prevention, wanted to go beyond learning in classrooms by gaining work experience in Los Angeles. With aspirations of becoming a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon, he joined the Mobile Clinic at USC student organization as a sophomore to supplement his college education by giving back to the community.

Photo courtesy of Samuel Cohen.

“At USC, we’re in a location where we have such an opportunity to really make a difference within the community and so that’s why this was a way for me to get clinical experience,” Cohen said. “As much as learning in a textbook, to me, one of the best parts about USC was being able to go out and do meaningful work in the community.”

USC Mobile Clinic is a student organization where undergraduates work alongside USC medical students, physicians, pharmacists, occupational therapists and other health professionals to deliver medical care and provide for the needs of Los Angeles’ homeless population.

Since the organization’s launch in Spring 2016, mobile clinics have been set up at different homeless shelters where patients can go to receive primary care check-ups. According to USC Mobile Clinic Vice President Courtney Cho, many patients within the homeless population in particular  do not have access to primary care doctors.

“Being at the shelters, especially exposed to various illnesses and because a lot of them spend their days at the shelter or wander around looking for jobs, the population itself is more prone to contracting diseases,” said Cho, a junior majoring in human biology. “Having a primary care doctor is important to ensure they have good health.”

According to Cohen, patients are seen by an occupational therapist during their primary check-up. During this appointment, they are evaluated for possible approaches and treatments. The medical students help the attending physicians with determining the situation and if the patient should be referred to a specialized medic for a follow-up appointment.

Cohen said that because patients have access to these appointments from the shelters, the follow-up attendance rate was about 15 percent. In order to help increase attendance by making transportation for patients more convenient, Cohen created the Advocate Care Program within the USC Mobile Clinic in Spring 2017. According to Cohen, since the program was started, the patient attendance rate has increased to 95 percent.

“So I started this program where we, as undergraduates, help get these patients to their doctor’s appointment,” Cohen said. “We would take public transportation, go to the shelter, pick up the patient, bring them to their doctor’s appointment, check them in, and then set them up with transportation to go back home.”

Although the organization used this model for a while, the system became inefficient due to the unreliability of public transportation and student volunteers’ conflicting class schedules.

Last week, Uber made a deal with the organization to provide free transportation for patients and volunteers to and from the clinics.

In addition to the Advocate Care Program, USC Mobile Clinic also runs the Shelter Days program, where students bring in board games and hygiene kits — including toiletries such as shampoo, deodorant and feminine products — to shelters.

“We go in and we play games with our patients and get to build relationships and a sense of camaraderie with them,” said Joshrick Sablan, a sophomore majoring in human biology who is a member of the organization. “That way, they’re a lot more comfortable with us when we provide our health care clinics.”

Sablan said he hopes that USC Mobile Clinic will grow in the future and expand its outreach to the homeless community in the Greater Los Angeles area.

“As undergraduates, we don’t yet have the medical expertise to provide medical care, but we can do the next best thing by ensuring that patients can actually go to the doctors who have the training to treat them and thereby ensure the continuity of care that they deserve,” Cohen said.