Two and a half years ago, Debra Grimes lost her sight. A frightening prospect for everyone, sure, but for a homeless woman living on the streets of Charleston, the stakes were even higher. Without the ability to see, Grimes struggled to support himself. Often, she didn’t know where she was, who she was with, or more importantly, if she was even safe.
“I felt lost. I had no one to help me,” she said in tears. “I couldn’t see myself in the mirror. I didn’t even know what I looked like anymore.
Things were getting harder and harder for her until one night, completely exhausted and lost, she went to bed to rest. A few hours later, she was awakened by a policeman. She had been taken into custody for sleeping at a bus stop.
Grimes was devastated.
But something incredible happened: she was connected to the Navigation Center, an organization that defends Charleston’s homeless population. Once there, staff members fed her, found her accommodation and coordinated her social security benefits. But they didn’t stop there. Then they connected her with the CARES clinic at MUSC Health, a free in-house clinic based on telehealth. Once there, doctors determined that her vision loss was actually due to severe cataracts in both eyes. But the best part was that it could be fixed. So they referred her for bilateral cataract surgery.
Marie Elana Roland, the founder of the Navigation Center, made all her appointments, drove her to each operation and helped her recover.
Today, Grimes can see again.
“It’s glorious, like heaven. I thank the good Lord for having regained my sight,” she said.
Thanks to MUSC Health and the Navigation Center, Grimes not only regained her sight, but she also received much-needed dental care, learned about the city’s bus system, and even started working part-time.
“It’s indescribable,” Grimes said through a broad smile. “I am very happy. I thank God for all of them.
More than 2 million people in the United States are homeless each year, including 4,000 right here in South Carolina. Research has shown that the homeless population is three to six times more likely to be ill, four times more likely to be hospitalized, and three to four times more likely to die prematurely.
MUSC Health family physician Cristin Adams, DO, who runs the CARES Clinic, understands as well as anyone that not having a roof over your head makes a person as vulnerable as possible.
“As important as health is, it still doesn’t matter when you’re talking about where you’re going to sleep that night or what you’re going to eat,” she said. “So unfortunately for a lot of our homeless population, until things get really, really bad, they’re just not getting the medical care that they desperately need.”
According to Adams, the main reason for this simply comes down to a lack of access to health care. That’s why she insisted so much that this clinic be operational. But in the current climate — when the healthcare community is already so dispersed and overburdened — Adams knew a different approach was needed. She and her team therefore had the idea of bringing a telehealth component to the clinic. Thanks to his new idea, medical students, and sometimes residents, would always be on hand, and thanks to modern technology, a patient would also have access to specialists so they can get the targeted help they need. .
Thanks to their innovative solution, Adams and his team recently received a $15,000 Telehealth Equity Catalyst (TEC) award from the Association of American Medical College. Not only do they have plans to expand the care they provide as well as medical education initiatives associated with this funding, but it’s what the money means that matters most to the team at MUSC Health.
“I think it shows that what we’re doing matters,” Adams said.
Juliette Gammel, a sophomore in the College of Medicine, who volunteers at the clinic every chance she gets, thinks telehealth is the future of medicine.
“I really think this is the wave of the future,” she said. “So to be able to get to work with technology while helping such a deserving population is just a great and rewarding experience.”
Gammel, who wants to be a trauma surgeon one day, sees a parallel between the homeless and the injured.
“None of them chose to be in this situation,” she said. “So as a doctor, to be there for them when needed, that’s why we turn to medicine in the first place.”
Working with the homeless population presents unique challenges, Gammel said. For example, things that a doctor might take for granted, such as access to charts and scans or a patient’s medical history, are often simply not available.
“A lot of times you’re only playing with half the deck,” she said. “So in that respect it is more difficult. But even with those hurdles, there’s something about this particular patient population where you just know you’re making a huge difference in their lives. What’s not to like about that? »
The MUSC Health Telehealth Clinic operates every Tuesday and Wednesday at the Navigation Center, which is temporarily located on Calhoun Street, while a new location is being constructed.
Adams, who has worked with Charleston’s homeless population since 2013, hopes the clinic will continue to grow and eventually reach more and more people.
“The cause is so amazing,” she said. “This is a group of patients who need someone to look after them, and I’m proud that on our small scale we are able to provide that.