Caring for homeless veterans offers training for residents

Meeting the medical needs of Houston’s homeless veterans was the focus of the annual Houston Homeless Stand Down in October, but the community outreach project also served to provide training to healthcare professionals, including Baylor residents, on treating this unique patient population.

Houston Stand Down

Pictured from left to right are Dr. Claudine Johnson, nurses Angela Umeorah, Shanea Hall and Natasha Mingo-Foster, Dr. Sarah Candler and Baylor residents Dr. Brett Styskel and Dr. Rani Bhatia.

The Stand Down was held in MacGregor Park in southeast Houston Oct. 7 to provide primary healthcare services to homeless veterans, as well as to meet other basic needs, such as providing showers, clothing and haircuts, and referrals for housing, employment and more.

Trainees from the Center of Excellence for Primary Care Education at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center were on hand to provide medical services at the event. The Houston center is one of seven nationally through the VA, with the goal of educating interprofessional trainees from the fields of internal medicine, mental health, nursing, pharmacy and other health professions to deliver high-quality, patient-centered, team-based primary care. It is directed locally by Dr. LeChauncy Woodard, associate professor of medicine at Baylor, and co-directed by Dr. Jane Anderson, assistant professor of neurology.

Two Baylor residents, Dr. Brett Styskel and Dr. Rani Bhatia, are part of the Center of Excellence for Primary Care Education and participated in the Houston Stand Down, along with nurse practitioner trainees from Texas Medical Center institutions.

“The Stand Down event was very rewarding,” said Styskel. “We provided flu vaccines and medical screenings such as blood pressure checks. Importantly, we also referred some veterans for follow up to H-PACT, the primary care clinic at the DeBakey VA that treats homeless vets.”

Styskel has long been interested in primary care. His interest started as an undergraduate student, when he took a sociology of health and healthcare class. In medical school, he volunteered at a student-run clinic that served uninsured patients in need of care. Pursuing training through the Center for Excellence for Primary Care Education made perfect sense for Styskel.

“This was ‘bread and butter’ primary care in the field, and gave me experience in community outreach and public service as a physician,” Styskel said. “It also was a great way to connect with veterans who do not have a primary care physician and help them to seek care with our team.”

Participating in Stand Down is also a good fit for the Center for Excellence for Primary Care. “We were excited to provide care to our Homeless Veterans at Stand Down. In the Center for Excellence for Primary Care, internal medicine and nurse practitioner residents learn primary care along with their fellow pharmacy and mental health trainees while helping to increase patient access to care and ensure all of our veterans’ primary care needs are met,” said Dr. Claudine Johnson, assistant professor of medicine at Baylor who also is associate director of the Center and leads the homeless veterans primary care team at the DeBakey VA.

The annual event is an important one, given that Houston has the second-largest veteran population in the country and one of the highest homeless veteran populations.