Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 8:59 am | Fair 43º


Doctors Without Walls Illuminates Health-Care Hardships

Large crowd turns out for second annual Glow in the Park event in Santa Barbara

A white-clad performer from Cirque Mirage stands out among the nylon rainbow of hot air balloons. Click to view larger
A white-clad performer from Cirque Mirage stands out among the nylon rainbow of hot air balloons. (Fritz Olenberger / Noozhawk photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

Doctors Without Walls — Santa Barbara Street Medicine elevated their lifesaving mission with the help of the community at the second annual Glow in the Park fundraiser held at Elings Park.

The warm weather did little to detour the over 400 supporters who converged on the hilltop of Elings Park for the sold-out event, which featured tethered hot air balloon rides to guests and sponsors throughout the day and into the evening.

“I couldn’t be more ecstatic with the community support that we have received for these vital programs,” said DWW-SBSM executive director Maria Long. “In spite of the new affordable healthcare act, our numbers have increased by 50 percent this year as compared to last year.”

Founded in 2009, DWW-SBSM was formed by small group of dedicated and passionate physicians who recognized a vital need to help the homeless and the working poor, a large percentage of whom have little or no access to proper healthcare.

The most vulnerable and voiceless population of individuals in the community turn to the unique organization's trained volunteers, who offer free medical healthcare and services from downtown Santa Barbara to Isla Vista.

Available 365 days a year from mobile clinics and backpacks, DWW-SBSM services assisted over 1,500 individuals in 2014, and as of Aug. 31, 2015, there have been 1,199 patients who received care, greatly reducing emergency room visits.

A contingent of 18 physicians, 2 physician assistants, 3 nurse practitioners, 14 registered nurses, 3 acupuncturists, 2 pharmacists, 2 social workers and 140 students volunteer, working together, providing education and offering humanitarian aid.

“Street Medicine is about meeting people where they are at. It would be easy to consult the data on what the most common health care needs of the chronically unsheltered homeless are — skin infections, dental issues, musculoskeletal pain,” said DWW-SBSM medical director Jason Prystowsky, MD, MPH, FACEP. “But this is the wrong question to ask…being homeless is an independent risk factor for premature death.”

Guests received complimentary rides hot air balloons. Click to view larger
Guests received complimentary rides hot air balloons. (Fritz Olenberger / Noozhawk photo)

Programs such as Wrap Around Care and UCSB Underserved Medicine Seminar service Santa Barbara County citizens, and DWW-SBSM’s UCSB underserved medicine seminar will start winter quarter.

The homeless are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer, drug overdose, suicide, liver failure or HIV/hepatitis than other people regardless of age, gender or ethnicity, as the healthcare challenges for people living on the streets or in their cars are complex and span physical illness, mental illness and substance abuse.

“One of our goals with DWW-SBSM is to invest in the relationship with the patient,” Prystowsky told Noozhawk. “To meet them where they are at and listen. To make someone who is often made to feel not human like they matter and their life is sacred.”

Once people are made to feel like they matter, they can be made aware of and are willing to utilize the resources available within the Santa Barbara community, including the neighborhood clinics, County clinics, Veterans Administration clinic, and various homeless shelters and programs.

“It takes a village to address the healthcare needs of vulnerable persons,” Prystowsky said. “The most pressing health care issue is how we can work with our colleagues to collectively address the healthcare needs of the most underserved.”

— Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at [email protected] Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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