VCU Schools Provide Health Care for the Homeless

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The VCU schools of dentistry, nursing and pharmacy recently teamed up with Homeward, a Richmond homeless services organization, to provide services to homeless individuals in need of dental extractions, screenings and medical relief. 

The event, Project Homeless Connect, served more than 600 people at the Richmond Convention Center on Thursday, Nov. 17, and featured more than 40 service providers offering everything from health care to employment and housing services.

“VCU is one of our key service providers,” said John Apostle, Homeward board member. “Routine medical and dental services can be very transformational for people who are experiencing homelessness.”

While dental school students offered dental advice, extracted teeth and took X-rays, students from the nursing and pharmacy schools took blood pressure, analyzed patients and made suggestions based on prescribed medications, treatments, etc.

Dr. Terry Dickinson, VCU adjunct professor and executive director of the Virginia Dental Association, said events like Project Homeless Connect help not only the patients, but also the students involved.

“The reciprocity of having a degree has to do with supporting the greater good of the community,” he said. “And this is a model for the students to see that outside of private practice, you give something back.”

Fourth-year dental student Susan Dickerson performed multiple extractions at the event and said, “The project was a learning opportunity because I got to practice my oral surgery skills, but it also was a community outreach opportunity. Volunteering at these projects is a way for me to give something back to my community that has blessed me with so much.”

Randolph Miller, who received a dental X-ray and advice about a tooth he thought he might need to have extracted, said, “In this dental area I’ve seen hundreds of people getting teeth pulled, where else would they go if this wasn’t here?”

Miller added that he thought the event was important because people were receiving treatment for problems they might not have known about unless they attended, which is another reason Dickinson said Project Homeless Connect is important.

“The preventative care the patients receive here blocks higher cost procedures and ER visits, and those become expensive for everyone,” he said.

Dickinson also praised the collaboration between the three schools at the event and said collaborative care is the future of medical care.

“When it comes to chronic conditions like diabetes we all need to work together to treat patients correctly,” he said. “Before doing certain procedures, dentists, for example, need to know if someone’s blood pressure or blood sugar is too high, which could be caused by not taking specific medications.”

That collaborative, comprehensive treatment that VCU’s School of Dentistry, School of Nursing and School of Pharmacy provided was impressive, Apostle said.

“Not only do they bring the best equipment with them, they also get it here, they set it up and they staff it,” he said. “They’re no slouches.”

Dickerson, who has volunteered at similar events throughout Virginia, saw the schools’ involvement as a welcomed obligation.

“I think that we as health care providers have a moral and ethical responsibility to help give back to our community,” she said.

Fourth-year dental student Susan Dickerson prepares to perform an extraction at Project Homeless Connect in the Richmond Convention Center
Fourth-year dental student Susan Dickerson prepares to perform an extraction at Project Homeless Connect in the Richmond Convention Center