When The Night Ministry began piloting its street medicine approach six years ago, bringing health care services directly to individuals living in encampments, it was the first program of its kind in Chicago. Today, the agency's Street Medicine Team serves as a model and a hub in the burgeoning network of street-based medical outreach programs currently working in the city.
"We have provided on-the-street training for the folks who have gone on to start similar initiatives at other local institutions," said Stephan Koruba, Senior Nurse Practitioner at The Night Ministry, "and act as a gateway to the outreach they are doing in parallel to us now."
Many of these programs are chapters of the nonprofit Chicago Street Medicine, which is comprised of interdisciplinary medical teams from Northwestern University, the University of Illinois Chicago, the University of Chicago, and Loyola University. Along with The Night Ministry, they are working toward the same goal, strengthening access to vital services for those living on the city's streets.
The programs are in frequent communication, checking in with each other at least biweekly to ensure care will be provided when and where it's needed.
"The Night Ministry talks about what they're seeing. We talk about what we're seeing. If patients need certain types of care or continuity of care, we can make sure we're aware of which locations to stop by," said Andrea LeFlore, Vice President of Operations at Chicago Street Medicine.
Serving those living outdoors, often without a permanent location, comes with many challenges. Providers must be able to locate patients when follow-up care is needed and provide realistic treatment plans in patients' challenging circumstances. Coordinating efforts helps mitigate the difficulties.
The programs use a shared tracking system to map out where each group is working and when. "We can see how we can all work with each other to follow up with certain clinical patients," said Koruba.
"Because The Night Ministry is out on the streets more often than the other programs and has access to many more resources, we kind of glue things together," Koruba continued. "We can do the follow-ups with patients when other programs cannot and can provide more case management services."
Fellow teams pitch in regularly to aid the agency, too. The Loyola chapter of Chicago Street Medicine, for example, joins the agency's outreach on the CTA every week on the Blue Line, helping The Night Ministry serve individuals riding the "El" for shelter. Medical students engage clients while the Loyola program's attending physician treats patients.
"We're all trying to figure out where our patients are and the best way to engage and serve them, so it's great we've got all these smart folks out there doing the work alongside us," said Koruba.