H-STAT is thinking of all of our members, families, and communities in this time of immense change, anxiety, and uncertainty. We hope you all stay in good health throughout this unprecedented experience.
H-STAT is inspired to see our communities, especially students, meeting the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. While H-STAT members are leading a number of initiatives, numerous other student-led volunteer efforts are tackling PPE shortages, restocking food pantries, and helping support the daily needs of our dedicated healthcare workers on the front lines.
Join the fight! This post includes ways members can help and connect with students and schools who may be working on efforts, to make a stronger, wider impact. Below you will find a listing of several ways that you, too, can contribute to these efforts. Although we are not together physically, now is the perfect time for us to embody our name of Health Students Taking Action Together.
One of the most important things you can do is practice social distancing. Please maintain 6 feet of distance between yourself and others and do not gather in groups larger than 10 people. The easiest way to do this is to stay home except for essential activities (groceries, healthcare, outdoor recreation that adheres to social distancing). Wash your hands often and well. But please make sure social distancing does not turn into isolation — reach out to friends, family, and neighbors. If you’d like to learn more about the need for social distancing and the concept of flattening the curve, please see our resources page.
Dr. Maura George, a physician at Grady Hospital and H-STAT Advisor, along with medical students, has developed a list of current needs. The most urgent priorities right now include:
- Procuring personal protective equipment (PPE) (masks, eyeshields/goggles, gowns, gloves, sanitizer, soap)
- Call your local dentists, eye doctors, orthodontists, nail salons, construction companies, etc.
- Care packages for healthcare personnel working on the front lines
- Meal delivery to vulnerable populations
- Pharmacy boxing and mailing to keep people out of the hospitals
A list of these needs can be found in this Google Doc, where you can add your name to join a particular initiative.
The American Red Cross had to cancel all their community blood drives, resulting in an 80% reduction in their usual donations for this time of year. You can still give at the Midtown American Red Cross Center by appointment. There are 2 blood drives this week at Grady Hospital on Wednesday (3/25) and Thursday (3/26) from 7 am – 5 pm.
Protecting yourself and others
Our country is waiting for congressional action to address the health and economic consequences of this pandemic. If you are at home, one way you can help is to call your legislators and ask that they take action. Find your representatives and more information here: www.protecteveryonenow.org.
Get Involved: Efforts for vulnerable populations
Those living on the streets are particularly vulnerable during a pandemic. Although Street Medicine volunteering has been suspended through the end of March, our committment to those living on the streets remains strong. Our Street Medicine Director, Suhaib Abaza, along with several Morehouse students have been working tirelessly to coordinate efforts focused on vulnerable populations. See below for a variety of ways to get involved. Fill out this form to get plugged into the work!
The #1 most important thing to consider at this time is to adhere to your University’s mandated guidelines. Most hospitals are recommending students NOT go out and see patients during this crisis if you are not essential to their care. Most programs are limiting contact with patients to only providers. Students should adhere to these guidelines and make every effort to serve our patients in the best way possible by not doing more harm than good during this pandemic. Please see the Street Medicine Institute COVID-19 guidelines for how to support unsheltered people at this time!
- Item Donations: We have begun organizing donations from the community and healthcare networks to give to community outreach members on the front line and the unsheltered/sex worker populations they’re serving.
- Much needed donations include: hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, tents, sleeping bags, tarps, toilet paper, tissues, soaps, nonperishable food items such as canned goods with pop tops, snacks, bottled water. All food products should be edible for people with no or few teeth.
- Please use extreme caution when collecting donations or making “hygiene kits” by frequently sanitizing your hands and not touching your face during the handling of donations. Screen the volunteers (i.e. recent travel, shortness of breath and/or cough, fever) who will be putting together the kits. We don’t want the donations to be a vector of disease.
- It is recommended to avoid including face masks in hygiene kits for distribution as they can become fomites when improperly used.
- Education: Consider using your student skills to develop information sheets and infographics that are easy-to-read and can be easily distributed to those experiencing homelessness in your community. Ask shelters if you can come and provide education to their residents.
- Advocacy: Our street neighbors now more than ever need advocates. Their civil liberties are at risk of being threatened, especially now. Even if you are forced to sit on your couch during this time, you can advocate!! Some ideas include:
- Explain to authorities that “rounding people up in shelters” could make the situation worse and why.
- Advocate that local governments call off street sweeps during this time so that those sleeping on the street can remain in place and be found by the Street Medicine team.
- Advocate that liquor stores do not suddenly close, as EtOH withdrawal will be detrimental at this time (increased ED and ICU visits, death, etc).
- Write articles, post on social media, speak to the local media sources. Explain the population of patients that you serve, the difference between sheltered and unsheltered homeless, how our population is at risk and what we can do to help.
- Creative contact: we are hoping to organize a mass action of solidarity to combat loneliness during isolation. Due to Medicaid, a surprising number of street homeless have a cell phone, we’re working on organizing and collecting a list of these numbers so we could call them and talk. Send them an encouraging message or video. It should be physical distancing, not social distancing.
Specific local Advocacy points
1. Advocacy surrounding stopping all street sweeps, anti-camping laws and tent bans https://nhchc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Issue-brief-COVID-19-HCH-Community.pdf
2. Advocacy for re-opening liquor stores: the Street Medicine Institute recommends advocating within your communities and states to re-open liquor stores or drop mandates to close them to prevent people from going into alcohol withdrawal. Educate decision-makers on the need to prevent people from going to Emergency Departments for alcohol withdrawal to maximize space for people requiring care for COVID19.
3. Advocate within your health systems and communities to reduce stigma towards rough sleepers and other people experiencing homelessness as we are navigating this pandemic. It is important to help decision-makers and others understand that people sleeping rough are probably no more likely to be infected than the general public.
4. Local organizations in Atlanta are calling for emergency housing options with a safe distribution (not crowded arrangements like shelters or crowded tents) and prioritizing CHOICE in whatever emergent housing options are implemented (a common fear of homeless people at this time is that they’ll be “rounded up” into emergency housing projects).
5. Reach out to legislators against Ordinances which directly target homeless folks: Ordinance 106-12 which bans “urban camping” and allows APD to deem your belongings “abandoned” and confiscate them, and Ordinance 106-88 which bans moving “household goods” at night without a permit.
For those hoping to get involved; we are actively seeking volunteers for any of the above tasks and to assist local organizations in their current efforts. Organizing for the survival and wellness of vulnerable populations is our duty!
Fill out this form to get plugged into the work!