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Win-win for homeless

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — University of New Mexico students of medicine, nursing, physical and occupational therapy, and pharmacy will begin providing free services tonight in a local homeless shelter.

A health clinic at the shelter formerly known as Albuquerque Opportunity Center opens today after renovations to the previous, less extensive health facilities on site.

Students will help care for all-male clients at the 74-bed homeless shelter, now known as Albuquerque Heading Home.

It will operate every Tuesday evening for three hours, and will be intended to meet the medical needs of men such as Jeffrey Ross, who is staying there, and who like many others had no place to get continued health care.

“I think it’s fantastic that they come and speak with us,” said Ross, 52, who has been homeless since June after a January motorcycle accident that caused him to lose part of his left leg and confined him to a wheelchair.

Because he couldn’t stand, he lost his job at a dollar store and eventually found his way to the shelter. “It all happened so fast,” he said of how his life changed.

Men who stay in the shelter sleep in a wide-open living space, filled with narrow green cots, some of them bunk-bed style. They have space to store their belongings and some food, and they must leave the facility from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Funding from the city has allowed for an expansion, which included new exam rooms in the rear of the building, along with case management rooms and areas for patient education, some of them in trailers on the property in the 700 block of Candelaria NE.

Clients like Ross will be able to get follow-up care at the clinic. For example, if a patient with high blood pressure is treated at the clinic one week, he could get checked the following week to see whether an adjustment to a medication is appropriate.

The shelter also provides hospice care to a small population of men who are too ill to be out on the streets during the day. Those who were recently released from the hospital and need bed rest, for example, are allowed to stay in all day, and now will get medical attention as well.

The facility will provide not only care for homeless men, but also learning opportunities for UNM’s health sciences students, such as Susan Davis.

She is in her second year in UNM’s physical therapy program, which takes three years to complete. “I’m super-excited,” she said during a walk-through of the facility last week while explaining that working in the clinic will be part of the service learning her program requires of second- and third-year students.

“It helps everybody out, you know? It’s just so nice to know they have somewhere to go now.”

At the clinic, nurses will triage patients, medical and pharmacy students will examine them, and during an exit interview, patients will be able to review their treatment plans and get some printed information if they need it, said Cindy Arndell, a doctor of internal medicine who will be supervising some of the students.

“It’s such an important and amazing service, and it’s going to be phenomenal for our students,” she said during the walk-through.

The opportunity to provide informational material to the clients is thanks to a $5,000 grant that Gale Hannigan, a research professor at UNM’s health science library, was able to secure. It goes toward the purchase of two portable computers on which students can look up information that will help their patients, and two printers so they can make hard copies of information to help them stay healthy.