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MRC Unit Partners with Doctors Without Walls to Vaccinate Homeless

April 28, 2010

Reaching out to Protect against H1N1

During the months of February and March, six Santa Barbara County (CA) MRC (SB-MRC) volunteers worked in collaboration with Doctors without Walls-Santa Barbara Street Medicine (DWW-SBSM), a local non-profit, whose mission is to provide free, volunteer medical care for the most vulnerable populations of Santa Barbara County. The MRC volunteers and the DWW-SBSM worked at local community vaccination clinics to ensure the homeless and veteran populations in the community were immunized against H1N1.

The two vaccination clinics were operated out of the American Indian Health Services Clinic on Wheels, a mobile clinic stationed at key areas to reach target populations. The clinics were the result of collaboration between key community health partners including Santa Barbara County Public Health, Organic Soup Kitchen, and American Indian Health Services.

Forty-nine people were vaccinated, including many high-risk unsheltered people who wouldn’t have been vaccinated otherwise. The March clinic occurred in conjunction with a weekly free breakfast for the homeless at the downtown Santa Barbara Veterans’ Hall, sponsored by Organic Soup Kitchen. The fear of the vaccine and medical providers among the homeless proved to be a challenge for the volunteers; however, the volunteers were able to provide basic first aid and medical consultative services to many people, whether or not they received the vaccine.

Experience Brings Connection to the Community

To prepare for the vaccination clinics, the SB-MRC and DWW-SBSM volunteers received training from the public health department and were then assigned various roles based on their medical qualifications and experience supporting the county’s mass vaccination efforts.  DWW-SBSM street team members work with the homeless population during weekly street rounds and provide treatment and counseling to Santa Barbara’s unsheltered homeless population. This training greatly benefited the SB-MRC volunteers’ interaction with the homeless at the H1N1 vaccination clinics. Volunteers with DWW were not only familiar with the medical and mental health issues confronting the homeless population, but also knew many of the clinic attendees on a personal level.

"I think the collaborative mobile vaccination clinic model is replicable, and I hope it will be deployed in the future by our MRC and other MRC units," said Jennifer Eskridge, MPH, CHES, SB-MRC Coordinator. "We hope other homeless programs around the nation will want to partner with their local MRC to utilize this model next flu season after they learn more about these outreach efforts."

SB-MRC Medical Director, Dr. Noemi “Mimi” Doohan; Dr. Neil Jayasekera, Contra Costa County MRC volunteer; and Dr. Jim Withers, founder of the Street Medicine Movement, are presenting about the Street Medicine Movement at the National Health Care for the Homeless Conference in San Francisco in June 2010. Dr. Doohan will be speaking about the partnership in Santa Barbara and the success of the H1N1 homeless vaccination efforts.

For more information about DWW-SBSM, visit

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