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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

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College of Nursing facility serves Houston homeless


nursing clinic

The clinic will serve patients at Abraham Station in St. Paul’s United Methodist Church every Monday from 8:30 a.m. through 1:30 p.m.│William Menjivar/The Cougar

The UH College of Nursing has opened a nurse-managed facility in the Museum District that will serve the health needs of Houston’s homeless population. 

This collaboration between the College of Nursing and St. Paul’s Methodist began when associate professor of nursing and clinic director Dr. Shainy Varghese met Reverend Andrew Wolfe at a conference put on by the Houston Graduate School of Theology back in 2018. 

“The best way to provide the homeless with health care is to take it to them,” Varghese said in a press release.

Varghese researches telemedicine and wanted to have a clinic that could provide telemedical care to people who can’t see a specialist. However, the University didn’t have a space to provide those kinds of services. 

Wolfe was motivated by the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey to provide medical care to those in need and wanted to open a clinic inside St. Paul’s Methodist. He didn’t know how to get past the bureaucratic and legal obstacles necessary to provide medical services in the church. 

The two realized they could combine their visions and fulfill each of their respective goals: Varghese would bring her medical experience and the resources of the UH College of Nursing and Wolfe would provide the venue. 

“St. Paul’s is a big building and a multipurpose space,” Wolfe said. “Dr. Varghese loved it when she saw it, and that was the beginning.

St. Paul’s was an ideal venue because it already houses the Emergency Aid Coalition, an organization that provides meals, clothes and supplies to homeless as well as low-income people. 

It took them three years to gather the resources and funding necessary for opening the clinic. Dr. Kathleen Reeve, associate dean of the College of Nursing, played a big role in the process during the last year of development. The clinic also secured funding from the Humana Integrated Health System Sciences Institute, the Texas Methodist Foundation and private donations. 

Patients will be treated by clinical associate professor and adult nurse practitioner Patricia Obulaney. Obulaney for the last 12 years has volunteered her skills as a nurse practitioner to TOMAGWA Clinic, a clinic in Tomball that provides care to underserved populations.

“It’s in my heart to serve the underserved,” Obulaney said. 

The clinic will provide patients with primary care and will treat minor injuries, asthma, hypertension, diabetes and any other medical problems caused by living without a home, according to Obulaney.

The clinic will also connect patients with specialists using telemedical services, fulfilling Vargehese’s vision

Obulaney is aware of the difficulties that come with providing medical care to homeless people and low-income populations. She hopes to develop credence for the clinic amongst the community. 

“It’s so important to establish trust with the individuals in the area,” Obulaney said. “We have to help them consider our place as a safe, inviting clinic where they will be treated with respect and kindness.”

The clinic plans to have student nurses and student nurse practitioners working in the clinic once trust has been established. There are plans to eventually include students from the School of Optometry and the Graduate School of Social Work. 

Obulaney and Wolfe are looking forward to having students in the building and hope they will gain experience and compassion while they work at the clinic. 

“The benefit for the students is that they will get firsthand experience working with the marginalized, and they will learn about the many factors that determine health,” Wolfe said. 

The clinic was set to open on Sept. 13, but no patients showed up because of the rain from Hurricane Nicholas. Obulaney, the clinic’s registered nurse Juanita Ward and Donna Meyer, the clinic’s receptionist, didn’t let the day go to waste. They ran through different situations and planned for the following week’s session. 

The clinic saw its first patients on Sept. 20. Ward, a graduate of the UH School of Nursing, looks forward to the learning experience the clinic will provide. 

“The first day of the clinic was exciting,” Ward said. ”We are ready to make improvements for the next clinic day.” 

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