Friday, Nov. 20, was Maxine Shervington's first day volunteering at the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida. Shervington, a nursing student with Herzing University, arrived at the Wellness Office at the Coalition's Center for Women and Families in downtown Orlando prepared for a day of taking blood pressure, providing first aid and helping the city's homeless residents with other basic health needs.
Her first patient of the day was a 50-something woman, Lillyanna M., a new resident at the Coalition. Lillyanna sat in a chair next to Shervington in a little room, which was once used for storage but today is outfitted with the typical accouterments of an exam room – a scale, some medical tools, an exam table. Shervington took her blood pressure while Vijayua Telu, a Herzing nursing professor, supervised. Though it was Shervington's first day, Telu is an old hand here. She's been volunteering at the shelter since the school first started bringing volunteer nurses to the campus to give the homeless access to routine medical care earlier this year.
Three days per week – two days at the Men's Service Center and one day at the Center for Women and Families – students from Herzing get a chance to practice their skills with patients who otherwise might never get to see medical professionals at all. They provide routine screenings and assessments, pediatric care, treatment for minor wounds and, as needed, referrals to emergency services.
The project helps the homeless clients, but it also allows the students to accumulate the mandatory volunteer hours they need to complete their nursing degrees.
"Nursing is all about giving back," Shervington says. "As a nurse, you are taught to put others before yourself. Even if you come into it without thinking that way, you end up being taught that."
According to Telu, who's an assistant professor of nursing at Herzing University, the goal is to not only offer essential care, but also to educate people about their health so they can avoid having to seek treatment in the first place.
"The main goal we had was to provide care to people in need, and one of our goals was to try to keep them out of the emergency rooms because that was the only place they immediately went to," says Pat Edwards, dean of the nursing program at Herzing's Orlando campus.
In January, she says, the school will increase its number of volunteer hours at the Center for Women and Families, and it will also add a full-time RN to work at the Coalition for the Homeless for 12 hours per day, four days per week. Some of the residents at the Coalition are in recovery from substance abuse, while others may have experienced domestic violence in the past. The nursing students are available to help them with health concerns as well as with questions about recovering from problems that plagued them in the past.
"This was kind of a dream for us for a while," says Muffet Robinson, director of communications and community relations for the Coalition for the Homeless. She says that the program came about because Herzing would hold health fairs at the Coalition campus, and the nurses who participated in them saw an opportunity to help. "It kind of grew into them sending some nursing supervisors over to volunteer, and then some students," Robinson says, adding that with the help Herzing has offered (all free, all volunteer), as well as volunteers from a few other community health care partners, the Coalition now offers basic health care services and counseling most days of the week. "It's a wonderful partnership because we are getting the services and we're able to assist our clients in a way we weren't able to help them before."
It also provides a sense of well-being for the patients, many of whom spend most of their time being invisible – ignored by people who don't want anything to do with the homeless. Lillyanna, who visited the clinic after her 10th day at the Coalition for the Homeless, says that just having medical caregivers available when she needs them makes her feel safe.
"I come for referrals for different ailments," she says, with an appreciative smile. "And I also come for somebody to give me compassion."