In order to slow the spread of COVID-19, state and federal officials have repeatedly urged residents to stay at home and quarantine as much as possible. But what about those who have no home to turn to?
With limited access to sanitation and space to properly social distance, those experiencing homelessness face a higher risk for worse outcomes from the virus. As the RN Homeless Health Case Manager and Outreach Nurse at Family HealthCare, Tara Bowen has spent the past several months working to mitigate that risk.
In brief summary, what do you do?
My non-COVID role mostly consists of seeing patients and assisting providers. My afternoons are typically spent doing outreach at other facilities, on the street, or at encampments. I also bring clients to the food bank, take them to run errands, go with them to appointments outside of our facility, help them clean their place if they get housing, and pretty much anything else they may need help with.
Because of this pandemic, I am currently taking care of and monitoring homeless clients who are COVID-positive or those that have had close contact with a positive person at a temporary shelter.
What do you find most rewarding about what you do?
Some of my clients come from very traumatic backgrounds and have a hard time trusting people. Nothing is more rewarding than being able to break through their walls, helping them to see that they matter, bonding with them, and gaining their trust. I have met some of my favorite people in the world through my role.
I believe everyone is one traumatic event from being in the same situation. Nothing we have is guaranteed. I was raised by an amazing single mother who worked insanely hard to provide for my sister and me. We did not have much, but we had family who helped take care of us while she worked. Without family support, things could have turned out very different for us. Not everyone is lucky enough to have that support. I also have family and friends who struggle with addiction and know that they could end up in some of the situations my clients do. My hope is that there will be someone there to help and care for them instead of judging them. I want to be that person for others when they need it.
How has the homeless population in Fargo-Moorhead been impacted by COVID-19? What challenges do they face?
The homeless population in the area has been hit hard by COVID-19. Many of our clients have a routine each day that allows them to get meals and clothes and stay safe from harm, and that routine has been upended by the pandemic. A lot of services and facilities they count on have been closed or the availability of their services has changed drastically.
As of May we have lost three members of our community, and at this time we have several more fighting for their lives in the ICU. Like the rest of us, they are scared and hurting.
How is Family HealthCare supporting folks experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic?
One big change during this pandemic has been the use of telehealth appointments. This is a great service, but it can also be a hurdle for people who don’t have access to smartphones or are experiencing homelessness. FHC is still allowing these patients or others who need it to come into the clinic for essential visits.
FHC has been immensely supportive of this population by allowing me to step away from my duties at the facility to support and care for our clients at the temporary shelter. FHC provides me with any of the supplies that I need and assists with supplying medications, as well as over-the-counter medicine that may be helpful. The administration is very good at checking in with me to be sure I am doing well and making me feel supported when I need it.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you and the nurses you work with?
This has been a time of change, learning, and challenge. We have had to take on new roles, adapt quickly, and support each other more than ever before.
How are you practicing self-care during this time?
While working during this current pandemic is quite challenging, I take great pride in knowing that I am helping those most at risk in our community. In addition to this personal satisfaction, I have taken up various hobbies outside of work. Some of these include gardening, reading, spending time with my husband and kids (and fur babies!), as well as tending to our new home.
Who is your hero and why?
My mom is my hero. She raised two kids on her own while never letting us know that we were struggling. She loves unconditionally, helps whoever she can, embodies grace, and never gives up on anyone. She taught us to be strong, independent, resilient women who can overcome any hardship we are faced with.
What’s the best career advice you have to offer?
The best advice I have to offer to my fellow nurses is to meet patients where they’re at. The majority of the population that we serve have experienced negative interactions within the healthcare system so it is our duty to do what it takes to rebuild that relationship with them. It’s important for us to realize that what works for one person may not work for another, so it is vital that we are able to adapt to each patient to the best of our ability.