Project Spotlight: Serving Birmingham’s Homeless

The PA Foundation awarded Rick Kilgore, PhD, PA-C, DFAAPA, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham a 2017 IMPACT Grant for a student-led screening/wellness clinic serving homeless residents in the Birmingham metropolitan area. The project equips PA students to work on interprofessional teams with students from other health professions to provide medical screening and patient education to residents of the Firehouse Shelter, a shelter for homeless men in the local Birmingham community. The grant team used its IMPACT Grant funding to purchase equipment and lab supplies for patient screenings.

During the grant project period, about 250 patients were seen and treated at the clinic and close to 200 PA students participated in the initiative, along with 250 other students from UAB health science programs. Of the 250 patients screened at the clinic, over 60% – around 150 individuals – required further medical care for significant medical issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and dental, vision, and mental health issues.

Many of the issues identified through screenings were not anticipated when the clinic was first established. This led the project team to seek new partners and resources to enhance the clinic’s care offerings. The clinic now has the capacity to address the conditions on-site, preventing expensive emergency room visits that might otherwise be patients’ only recourse. Kilgore explains, “The goal is to get clients to the appropriate facilities and clinics to provide more preventive care. That is being accomplished through the student-led clinic.”

In addition to screening and treatment services, at least 350 shelter clients attended educational programs at the clinic during the project year.

In reflecting on the project’s outcomes, Kilgore describes it as highly successful in terms of the number of referrals for care within the UAB healthcare system. In addition, he says, the number of UAB health science students participating – which now exceeds 540 – and the number of programs working on the interprofessional teams is impressive.

Kilgore says in hindsight, there are aspects of the initiative he would have approached differently. In particular, he says he would have better researched the healthcare needs within the community and worked to bring dental, vision and mental health professionals into the clinic much earlier. “It was more of a reactionary response than planned,” he says.

The PA Foundation is proud to support the University of Alabama at Birmingham and its efforts to provide critical health services to a vulnerable population in its community. Through a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that empowers PA students to take the lead on patient screening and referral, the Firehouse Shelter student-led clinic initiative is improving patient health outcomes for homeless residents who might have otherwise gone without the care they need.