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Medical Mistrust within the Homeless community

Published By: Raghad Alaraj

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Almost 27,487 people are homeless in the state of Florida, ranking Florida to be the 15th state with the most homeless population. 1 While Orlando is known for its scenic and magical places, 7,270 of its people are homeless, 3,536 of them in Orange county.2 With such an alarming rate of homelessness, diseases are widely spread, and healthcare isn’t as accessible. So, how are these people taken care of?

Trust is a significant aspect of asking and receiving help in the medical community. Without being able to trust your doctor, you won’t be able to get the best care. Homeless people are no different. They need to feel comfortable seeking help, and they need to trust the physicians to take care of them. A lot of healthcare professionals are trying to help these populations gain their trust but have come across some setbacks. Homeless people find it very difficult to trust physicians and get help for many reasons. 

John Hopkins University found out that most homeless people tend to feel judged and unwanted in clinics and health centers. Due to their lack of hygiene and grooming, most of them have been treated unfairly in the outside world. It’s only natural for them to assume that doctors will provide them with the same treatment.3  Not only that, but with the majority of the homeless population being Black and Hispanic, we need to address the racial and historic mistrust rooted in healthcare. A lot of medical practices have been based on the white average male and so for so long, people have been misdiagnosed based on lack of representation in the medical field. In addition, the black community has been victim to multiple healthcare abuse where they were used in order to unethically advance medicine. It’s no shock that homeless people are scared of being taken advantage of. 

If we can learn to empathize, then we can reach a better solution when it comes to the healthcare of our homeless population. Having more representation in the field is a great first step in bridging the generational mistrust in healthcare professionals. In addition, research has shown that a stable physician would increase the trust within the homeless. If they know that that person will be with them the whole time, it makes it much easier for them to go ahead and continue seeking help whenever needed. When Dr. Monica Bharel was a medical student, she used to work with the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. There, she met Gary who was homeless with multiple chronic illnesses. Gary did not feel comfortable getting routinely checked, but after reassurance from Dr. Bharel that she will be there for him, he started getting treatment for his diseases and was able to get the medical attention he deserved. 4

Many people and professionals in Orlando are taking the initiative to help cross those obstacles. Multiple organizations such as the Healthcare Center for the Homeless are actively building clinics and placing help to those people who might need it. By bringing the clinic to the homeless, we don’t have to task the homeless with worrying about transportation or accessibility. Furthermore, UCF medical students have also been working on site trying to build that trust and improve the conditions of these populations by visiting these places and treating mild cases of inflammation and infections. 5 

Healthcare professionals are unable to help as many of the homeless as they can due to the lack of trust present in that dynamic. Whether healthcare is inaccessible or the homeless steer clear of it to avoid feeling judged, it is our job to make sure that healthcare is being advocated for all. Showing continuous support to the homeless community will reassure them that people care for them and might encourage them to seek help when they need it because a safer, healthier homeless community is a win for all.

 

[1] Homeless in Florida Statistics 2018. Homeless Estimation by State | US Interagency Council on Homelessness. (2021). Retrieved 12 June 2021, from https://www.usich.gov/homelessness-statistics/fl/

[2] Community Snapshot – BETA – HMIS FL-507. (2021). Retrieved 12 June 2021, from https://www.hmiscfl.org/community_snapshot/

[3] van den Berk-Clark, C., & McGuire, J. (2014). Trust in health care providers: factors predicting trust among homeless veterans over time. Journal of health care for the poor and underserved, 25(3), 1278–1290. https://doi.org/10.1353/hpu.2014.0115

[4] AMA J Ethics. 2015;17(5):469-472. doi: 10.1001/journalofethics.2015.17.5.mnar2-1505.

[5] GABRIEL, J. (2019). UCF Students Start Clinic to Care For Orlando’s Homeless. Retrieved 12 June 2021, from https://www.ucf.edu/news/ucf-students-start-clinic-orlando-homeless/

About the author
Raghad Alaraj
Raghad Alaraj is a Palestinian-American from Orlando, FL. She is currently majoring in Biomedical Sciences and minoring in Creative Writing at UCF with goals of becoming a doctor. Raghad enjoys reading and volunteering at Project Downtown Orlando and Adult Literacy League in her spare time. She is very passionate about expanding health care access to everyone in need and dismantling the stigma around mental health.

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