Help with meals and clinic part of outreach to homeless
By MARY LOCHNER
Iraq war veteran Samuel Paul Albers had come across hard times and was living at Brother Francis Shelter in March 2011 when he came down with a chest cold and sinus infection. But thanks to a free clinic which is staffed by volunteer s from Providence Alaska Medical Center, Albers received much needed health care.
Albers, who has a degree in human services, now works at the shelter, is moving into a case management position there, and has lived in his own home since August.
As part of his new job, he counts heads after the shelter’s evening meal. The numbers are then relayed to Providence, which provides all dinners for the shelter every night of the year.
Lately, the shelter has served between 200 and 275 meals a night.
But many of the homeless also require basic medical care.
Heidi Hurliman, an advanced nurse practitioner and director of the shelter’s medical clinic, said volunteer health care workers aim to provide this needed medical care along with a dose of compassion.
“Everybody you treat is the face of Jesus,” Hurliman said. “I remind my folks I work with, it’s the face of Jesus you’re looking at and treating. And the guests we treat are grateful we’re there, and they thank us profusely.”
Providence provides medicine for the clinic as well as volunteer physicians on the first and third Tuesday of each month.
“Providence has been very generous,” Hurliman said. “They give us all brand-new medications.”
The clinic is open two to three times a week, based on volunteer availability. It is limited in scope, providing care and treatment for issues like colds the flu, and some wounds. The clinic also coordinates with other medical providers for people who need additional care.
At Providence, Monica Anderson, the hospital’s chief mission integration officer, said caring for the homeless goes to the heart of the Catholic hospital’s mission. Providence was founded in Anchorage by the Sisters of Providence in 1939.
“There’s no way we can be faithful to what we are called to be if we’re not reaching out to the poor and the vulnerable,” Anderson said.
The hospital’s official mission statement is simple: “As people of Providence, we reveal God’s love for all, especially the poor and vulnerable, through our compassionate service.”
Albers, who lived at Brother Francis Shelter for seven months, said the hospital’s contributions make a tremendous impact.
“As far as the clinic goes, I’ve known quite a few people that were sick and went there and were able to get help,” he said. “And there have been times that we’ve seen somebody that we knew wasn’t doing really good health wise, but didn’t realize how serious the situation was and they’ve gone to the clinic and the doctor or nurse has said, ‘I’m putting you in an ambulance.’ I’ve seen basic wound care that needed to be addressed that probably wouldn’t have been addressed otherwise.”
Through the Parish Nurse Program, which is supported through funds from Providence, guests at Brother Francis Shelter also receive care for their feet, which volunteer nurses do in imitation of Christ’s washing of his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper.
Anderson said it is this imitation of Christ’s love that ultimately allows Providence to carry forward the healing ministry of Jesus.
“You’ve got to love people,” she said. “If you’re going to be a revelation of God’s love, you’ve got to love people.”
Heidi Hurliman, director of the medical clinic at Brother Francis Shelter, said the all-volunteer clinic is in need of health care providers, and physicians in particular. Hurliman also said the biggest barrier homeless people in Anchorage face in accessing health care is transportation to and from appointments. Those interested in helping at the clinic should contact Heidi Hurliman at email@example.com, or contact the Brother Francis Shelter at 277-1731 or go online to cssalaska.org.
To donate to the Providence Alaska Foundation, call 212-3600. To donate to Catholic Social Services, which operates the Brother Francis Shelter, call 222-7300.