[Hpn] Las Vegas, NV - Homeless seek health care after clinic closes - LAS VEGAS SUN - July 05, 2002

Editor Editor <hccjr@bellsouth.net>
Sat, 06 Jul 2002 12:09:55 -0500


Homeless seek health care after clinic closes
"Now I guess a lot of the homeless will come here.
We don't really have much of a choice."

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By Timothy Pratt - LAS VEGAS SUN - July 05, 2002

Dr. David Owensby was trained to treat the body, but he also pays attention to
the hearts and minds of his patients -- homeless people who come to the tiny Las
Vegas Outreach Clinic on West Wilson Avenue.

His experience with a recent patient illustrates why, he said.

"The man was derelict, dirty, unshaven," Owensby said. "I walked into the office
and stuck out my hand to introduce myself. A tear rolled down the man's cheeks.
I asked, 'Why the tear?' He said, 'That's the first time someone's shook my hand
in years.'

"I take the time to notice these details."

Owensby treats the homeless of the Las Vegas Valley for free. Since the June 18
closing of the MASH Village clinic, he's treating a lot more of them, going from
10 to 15 patients a day to as many as 25 -- the maximum number he can handle and
still "shake hands," as he puts it.

Apart from area emergency rooms, he and the rest of the staff at the clinic are
now the only option for most of the valley's estimated 10,000 homeless when they
get sick.

University Medical Center is seeing a similar increase, from about three
homeless patients a day to 10, spokesman Rick Plummer said.

"This is in direct correlation to the MASH clinic's closing," he said.

Until a little more than two weeks ago, MASH Village saw up to 600 patients a
month, according to executive director Ruth Bruland. About 40 percent of them
were homeless and the rest were low-income patients, including undocumented
immigrants.

The clinic's closing followed the shelter's announcement March 30 that it would
close for good in six months, due to a lack of funds.

The Las Vegas Outreach Clinic intends to keep its personalized care despite the
added crunch, director Brian Brooks said, but a recent visit showed the
challenge the six-person team faces.

"We're not only seeing more patients in recent weeks, we're seeing more
complicated problems," Owensby said.

"We have people with diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, lung problems,
toothaches, and combinations of all of these -- conditions related to their
lifestyle and to a lack of ongoing medical care. These conditions can't be
resolved in one visit, so we have to convince the patient to return several
times.

"In addition, we have people with mental health problems -- which I'm
sympathetic to, but can't treat. So I figure out ways to also convince them to
seek treatment at Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health, the state-run clinic."

Treatment at the Las Vegas Outreach Clinic is one of two approaches used by
parent organization Nevada Health Centers to provide health care for the
homeless.

The other is outreach -- the nonprofit sends a nurse and caseworker to tunnels,
lots and shelters around the valley to give on-the-spot care or refer patients
to the clinic.

The clinic will move for the third time in its year-plus history when Catholic
Charities opens new facilities in August. The clinic will occupy a building more
than twice the size of its present location at the rear of the Las Vegas Rescue
Mission Compound, which is located at Bonanza Road and D Street.

"We really have enough demand to keep clinics open at both sites," Brooks said.
"What we don't have is the funds."

Iris Arispe was one of more than a dozen patients who had visited the Las Vegas
Outreach Clinic by 11 a.m. Wednesday. She was waiting to see Owensby for a sore
right arm.

She said she used to visit the MASH Village clinic with health problems.

"Now I guess a lot of the homeless will come here. We don't really have much of
a choice."

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