When we signed up for the National Health Corps Florida Americorps program, none of us expected to go through such a chaotic service term. We certainly did not expect to be serving through a global pandemic as the nation started to lockdown.
As a patient navigator at the Sulzbacher Center downtown, I had the unique opportunity to serve on the front line amidst all of the chaos. Sulzbacher is a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower homeless and at-risk women, children, and men to achieve a better life through a full range of services including health, housing and income services thereby restoring hope and self-sufficiency. Unlike many other homeless shelters and non-profit organizations, the Sulzbacher Center has remained open in order to continue providing meals, mail services, and medical services during this time. In addition, the center was chosen to be one of the testing locations for all homeless individuals in Jacksonville. As a homeless shelter, though, the center faced a whole different set of problems compared to the population at large: How are homeless individuals to be quarantined? How can we check who our clients have been in contact with? How can we make sure the homeless population actually gets tested? These were only some of the questions that arose when the pandemic started. Even with these questions, though, Sulzbacher moved forward with making do with the information that was known and the personal protective equipment that was available.
My role as the dental eligibility coordinator was temporarily discontinued. Instead of meeting with clients about how to become a patient in the dental clinic, I screened individuals coming onto the campus at the front gate, including taking temperatures and asking screening questions. This was vastly different from seeing clients in my office. Suddenly, I was seeing my clients and our entire patient population in a whole new light. Since starting at Sulzbacher, my thoughts regarding homelessness have changed, especially as I better understood the numerous factors involved in homelessness and the many obstacles individuals face when trying to get back onto their feet. Although I understood this intellectually, it was completely different seeing these issues firsthand. I realized that ironically, the service I was doing had made me focus more on people’s situations rather than the individuals in person. Slowly, I had started to emotionally distance myself from clients, not always putting myself in their shoes. Screening outside every day reminded me that empathy, compassion, and persistence are crucial in order to best serve our clients.
These lessons that I learned over the past couple of months are ones that I will take with me moving forward. This term has reaffirmed my passion for service and future goals – to do what is within my capability to help others through empathy and respect. It is with these thoughts in mind that I finish out the National Health Corps Americorps program.