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Sacramento Doctor Volunteers Care for Homeless Patients

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Every Tuesday morning, Dr. Drew Hudnut volunteers his time at the Salvation Army Interim Care Program for convalescing homeless people, just north of downtown Sacramento.  

Dr. Hudnut is a tall, fit man with light brown hair and a serious demeanor. He walks the bare halls of the clinic wearing a green sweater and carrying a clipboard. He speaks to patients with precision and compassion.

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"I think one of the many of the gifts of being a physician is that you have a skill that can be given, you have a training that has value, and the needs for that in all honesty are endless," says Dr. Hudnut.  

Today he's seeing a patient named Mable. In middle age, things have not been so easy for her.  

"'Cause I've worked all my life and then suddenly to lose my job, or get laid off, and then not have the insurance, that was a shock, too, " Mable tells Dr. Hudnut during their consultation.

Mable went to the hospital with digestive problems, and she found out she had colon cancer and diabetes. Now she's at the shelter, which is run by The Effort Clinic and supported by local hospitals. It allows homeless people to recover medically,  while they deal with the factors that left them homeless.

0107PB Doctor Stomach Exam

"It gives me a sense of spiritual happiness being able to come and practice medicine in a facility and be part of a program like this, " says Dr. Hudnut.

Gwendolyn Jenkins is a staff nurse at the program - she says the few hours a week that Dr. Hudnut spends with patients here is part of an important safety net.

"Dr. Hudnut and I as a team support them medically. But we have other parts of our team that their specific goals are to get them housed, is to get them income and insurance. So we all kind of work together interconnectedly. Because one without the other is not doing our clients any service at all," says Jenkins.

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Patients at Salvation Army ICP have complex lives and health problems. Many have chronic diseases, mental illness or they struggle with substance abuse. Some patients are recovering from violent incidents. Others have stories that don't seem to be medically possible.  

One woman's chart indicated she was admitted to the hospital with high blood alcohol levels. She takes off a medical walking boot for an examination with Dr. Hudnut, revealing two huge black and blue surgical wounds from a leg fracture.  

"I was doing some... kind of exercises in a small room, and I guess I just fell," says the patient, who we'll call Janet. "[It was] kind of a freak thing."

But Dr. Hudnut says no matter what her version of the story, his treatment of her won't change.

"A lot of the underlying issues here are addiction and dependency-related and poorly-controlled or undiagnosed psychiatric issues," says Dr. Hudnut. "So there's a reality that sometimes a story that a person shares with me is not the real truth."

Dr. Hudnut says even with expanded coverage under the new federal health law, some people will still fall through the cracks, and they'll still need this kind of care.  

"Insurance is not the underlying issue. Homelessness is the underlying issue and about half the patients have insurance, they're homeless," says Hudnut.

0107PB Doctor Leg Exam

For over a decade, Dr. Hudnut has carved time out of his life and practice to care for the indigent.

"These hours that I spend here replenish my batteries and you leave with a sense of altruism, and a sense of compassion and a sense of empathy that is very rewarding," he says. "I think I probably get more than I give in this process."

Besides Dr. Hudnut, there are three dozen other doctors who volunteer through the Sacramento Physicians' Initiative to Reach Out, Innovate and Teach (SPIRIT) program. They work in clinics and operating rooms throughout the Sacramento area. The need is greater than the care they can provide.

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