PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Life has changed in so many ways over the past three months but for one group of nurses, the mission remains the same. COVID-19 isn’t shaking these nurses.
In fact, the pandemic has only strengthened their resolve. They say if they don’t show up to work, the real fear is that no one will step in to take their place.
Underserved and often overlooked. One group of nurses has vowed not to let the care of Philadelphia’s homeless fall through the cracks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Human beings need to help raise others up and give them opportunities to improve their lives,” Nursing Supervisor Michelle Haines said. “This is what I do and I had no intention of stopping.”
Haines has been a nurse for 13 years and for more than half of that time has led “Healthcare for the Homeless,” a program by the non-profit Public Health Management Corporation.
“I decided that fear wasn’t going to get in my way and I was just going to stay focused every day on what was in front of me,” Haines said. “This is what I do for my life. I’ve always been interested in working with folks who have been underserved and whose needs needed to be recognized and needed to be met.”
Haines and her nurses treat the homeless at seven shelters throughout the city of Philadelphia. They also take their work to the street, sometimes helping up to 80 people a week by providing health screenings, education about COVID-19 and assistance in finding primary care.
“The need to help people always outweighed any type of anxiety of fear,” Community Health Nurse Melissa Hillegass said.
Hillegass is on Haines’ team. Her biggest concern amid the pandemic isn’t her own health. It’s that her patients would go without if she didn’t show up. In some cases, she’s worked for years to establish trust.
Abandoning those people now – never once crossed her mind.
“If I wasn’t there, nobody else would be there,” she said. “Working with the homeless humbles you. When you go home and want a pair of socks, you just go to your sock drawer. With these people, they don’t have anything, and we’re able to give them something, and sometimes that just gives them the spark to be able to go on. For me, that is a privilege. I don’t think I could do anything else.”
Pandemic or no pandemic, these nurses don’t stop. This comes at a time when there’s a renewed push to help the homeless in Philly. Whether that’s through finding housing or healthcare.
For more information about services for the homeless, click here.