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Volunteering at Duffy Health Center

July 29, 2015  |  Bobby Duffy

I walked through the front doors of the Duffy Health Center into the lobby where five or six returning patients waited for their appointments with the usual staff. Duffy serves a huge range of people, some young and some old. Many have been experiencing difficulties with homelessness or addiction for years.  The Duffy Health Center provides Mental Health Services, Addiction Treatment Programs, and the attention of General Practitioners all under one roof. Providing the opportunity for an individual to get all of their health care in one building makes the process significantly more convenient, and so makes Duffy patients much less likely to terminate their care.

As a volunteer, I was explaining the new online system to Duffy clients, and signing them up if they wanted. Through the system, patients can access their medical records, request appointments and prescription refills, and email their provider directly. Many patients were happy to know that the system existed, and were very excited to see their records or to request prescription refills from home or from their phone. Some people had no interest in the system and still others saw little use for it, but those that chose to create an account were glad to have tangible access to their health information.

The online system is in its early stages, but a program of this type is one that all modern medical facilities should provide to their patients. It creates a sense of transparency, connects patients more closely with their providers, and educates individuals about their own medical treatment. Mental health problems like depression or addiction are tough to treat in all people, but when the destabilization of homelessness is added, a regular course of treatment is difficult to maintain for both doctor and patient.

Many of the people I spoke with owned smartphones, and most were able to access the internet with their own devices on free public WiFi. Just because a person is homeless does not imply that they are unfamiliar with modern technology, and most people that accessed the internet at all used it regularly. Of all the people that I spoke to in the Duffy lobby, about 25% were interested, and willing to give me the information necessary to create an account. While this may not seem like a lot, I think it actually is. What proportion of the entire US population that’s insured have accessed their medical records online, now that these systems are in place? Not a fourth of them, that’s for sure.

Another chunk of my volunteer time was spent shadowing John Barboza, an R.N. with a specialization in treating addiction. I think this was the most personally valuable time I spent at Duffy, because I was able to sit in on dozens of patient interviews and appointments. While I expected my presence to make patients very uncomfortable, most welcomed me and seemed to proceed with their appointment as they normally would. The days were packed with appointments, a testament to the level of need in this area. Some patients were scheduled to receive a dose of Suboxone or Vivitrol, while others were meeting to talk with John about their struggles to maintain sobriety. John showed me the importance of treating people differently but fairly, giving them what they need and changing one’s behavior to make the patient more comfortable. He clearly knew his patients well, and they seemed relieved to be talking to someone that cared about their well-being. While these were clinical appointments, they felt more therapeutic than anything else.

Throughout my experience here, I was glad to see the high quality of care Duffy provides as well as the fun but professional attitude of the staff. Treating someone in the throes of addiction is a difficult job, and the people at Duffy do it skillfully. A sense of humor goes as long way in a tough situation, and keeping a good attitude throughout the difficulties of a day can make a better environment for everyone. Volunteering at Duffy was a great experience. Thanks to everyone that helped make it happen and made me feel comfortable to be working at Duffy, if only for a short time.

If you are interested in becoming more involved in your community, volunteering at Duffy is a great place to start. Click here to take a look at our current volunteer opportunities.