At Macon homeless center, GCSU students help run free clinic

At homeless center, Georgia College students help run free clinic

jmink@macon.comNovember 5, 2013 

Johnny Carter sits on the white, padded table, a stethoscope pressed to his chest and a grin plastered on his face. A nurse has left the room and will return with some news.

This is not the most pleasant situation for most people -- many dread visiting the health clinic.

Still, Carter is grinning. He is thrilled to be here. After all, he knows where he would be if this service were not available.

“I could end up being a friend of (the) funeral home,” he says.

Carter lives on Main Street in Macon. He’s not homeless, but times are tough, and for Carter and many others, the health clinic at Daybreak on Walnut Street literally is a savior. It’s been about one year since the center held its grand opening, giving day services to those who are homeless and in temporary housing, including laundry, showers, a cafe, computers and medical services.

More than 1,000 people have walked through the doors, and about 600 of them have become regular visitors. That’s more people than staff members initially expected, said Sister Elizabeth Greim, Daybreak director.

January 2013 was the official opening for the center’s health clinic, which is run by faculty and students in Georgia College & State University’s Family Nurse Practitioner master’s program. At the clinic, patients receive checkups, medical advice, referrals and prescriptions. All services are free and geared toward Middle Georgia’s homeless population.

It’s not only a benefit for patients and students but also for the health care industry, which will see a major demand for advanced nurses, experts say, as a primary care physician shortage is projected under the Affordable Care Act. Advanced nurses will be expected to step up and fill those roles, using skills that are practiced at clinics, such as Daybreak, said Sheryl Winn, assistant professor of nursing at Georgia College.

Unlike clinical experience at private practices, students are learning to ask different types of questions and manage care for people who encounter many daily obstacles. For example, nurses might ordinarily suggest hypertensive patients lower the amount of salts in their foods, but those who are homeless cannot control how their food is prepared, Winn said.

“Being able to manage the care of patients is going to help prepare them for those roles” in primary care, she said. At Daybreak, students “get to see an under-served population. It’s people who really need the help, who wouldn’t have the help otherwise. ... Every student that comes here begs to come back.”

That’s already the case for Felisha Dixon-Brazier, a nursing student at Georgia College.

“This is what I love,” she said. “I know I can do more than bedside nursing. I can come to a place like this and help people who really need the help.”

Kasia Shaw, a nursing student, gets teary-eyed when discussing her passion for nursing and the rewards of caring for others. Working at the Daybreak clinic makes her consider volunteering, she said.

“If we’re able to help the less fortunate, we’re helping humanity overall,” she said.

That was the sentiment behind Daybreak and its clinic. When the center opened, director Greim spoke to several homeless people who complained about access to health care. Some could not afford co-payments or missed appointments due to a lack of transportation or simply did not know where to go. She decided to help.

“Georgia College, they stepped right up to the plate and said, ‘We want to be part of this,’ ” she said.

Initially, garnering patients was difficult. One morning, Greim asked five regular Daybreak center visitors if they wanted to visit the clinic. By noon, a line of new people was waiting. The word continued to spread, and now up to 15 people a day receive health care at Daybreak, she said.

Carter is a regular patient. Winn knows him, chats with him about how much he walks -- about 10 miles a day -- and other daily routines. She has some news. His blood pressure is not good.

It’s an example, Carter says, of why the clinic is a lifesaver for people. For many, like him, it’s their only opportunity to get medical help and health advice, he said.

“Come to find out, I was on my way to the funeral home,” he said.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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