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“AT THE END OF THE DAY I HOPE I DON’T HAVE TO DEVELOP THE PERFECT CARE MODEL FOR UNDERTHEBRIDGE HEALTH CARE. I WOULD LOVE TO NOT EVER HAVE TO DO THAT. THE ANSWER IS HOUSING.” DR. TIMMERCER, PROFESSOR, DELL MEDICAL SCHOOL AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS
Dell Medical School professor and director of global health program Dr. TimMercer, an assistant professor at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas, leads the school’s work with Austin’s homeless population. This interview was edited for length and clarity. HOWDID COVID19 AFFECT YOURWORK? Throughout the pandemic, one of the things I’m most proud of is we did ongoing surveillance testing of people who were living in the shelters, those on the streets surrounding and the sta. Over the course of the pandemic [we] did just over 1,000 COVID[-19] tests … that helped prevent any further outbreaks in those settings and helped provide some advice and technical expertise to the shelters and other outreach and social service agencies around screening protocols and masking and COVID[-19]. And now we have pivoted, as most have, to vaccine-related work. WHAT ARE SOME CHALLENGESWITH CONNECTING INDIVIDUALS EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS TO CARE? Not to overgeneralize, but many people experiencing homelessness … have a lot of
provide better care, improve the health. And that is done through making current services better, more patient-centered, more trauma-informed, of higher quality. But also [by] innovating and expanding new models of care or scaling existing models that work. All that being said, at the end of the day I hope I don’t have to develop the perfect care model for under-the-bridge health care. I would love to not ever have to do that. The answer is housing. And those are bigger policy and political and societal and nancial questions that I didn’t go to medical school for. Housing I think is a human right, and shelter is a human right, and housing is directly correlated with health. If we care about the people in our community being healthy and view this as a moral imperative, which I personally do … then that should be our North Star end goal.
inherent, and I would say not surprising, mistrust of the ‘system,’ including the health care system. That I think stems frommultiple reasons, some just sort of frank mistreatment and lack of compassion as they’ve navigated systems over time. Health systems are intimidating. You need to sign up and be on time and get there and check in and get into a waiting room and you get thrust a whole clipboard of forms. I just think all those things sort of stack up against them, and then when you add onto that mental health disorders and substance use disorders, which are historically stigmatized, that compounds it and then may even get in the way of your ability, because of those illnesses, to navigate systems and appropriately advocate for yourself or address your needs. WHAT’S NEXT FOR SYSTEMS OF HEALTH CARE FOR THE HOMELESS INAUSTIN? We certainly want to continue to do better,
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SOUTHWEST AUSTIN DRIPPING SPRINGS EDITION • JUNE 2021
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