FAU Nurses Provide Face Masks for Homeless, Low Income Individuals

April 2020

Nurses are on the frontline of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in hospitals saving lives while putting their own at risk. But their selflessness doesn’t stop there. Florida Atlantic University’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing is committed to helping those in greatest need during this pandemic: homeless and low income individuals who live in a northwest neighborhood in West Palm Beach. The city’s first and oldest neighborhood has a population where the majority of its residents live well below poverty. Its homeless population, in particular, is at grave risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19. Those who live in poverty simply do not have the means to protect themselves with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as a face mask or seek medical attention if they suspect they may be infected with the virus.

 

To address the dire needs of this community, Karethy Edwards, Dr.PH, APRN, a professor and associate dean of academic programs, and Karen Chambers, DNP, APRN, an assistant professor, both in FAU’s College of Nursing, are spearheading programs to provide lifesaving PPE and health care services for residents in this neighborhood during the pandemic.

On April 28, in collaboration with the Northwest Community Health Alliance board, which serves a predominately African-American community in the northwest district, Edwards, Chambers and about 10 faculty and staff members distributed more than 400 face masks to residents in this community, specifically targeting homeless individuals. An additional 150 face masks will be distributed early next month during the community outreach takeout breakfast, which specifically serves the homeless population. Those who were unable to receive a face mask, can pick them up on designated days at the FAU Community Health Center, operated by FAU’s College of Nursing and the Northwest Community Health Alliance. 

Karen Chambers
Karen Chambers, DNP, APRN, an assistant professor in FAU’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, prepares the faces masks to distribute to homeless and low income individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a family nurse practitioner volunteering at our FAU Community Health Center in this northwest neighborhood in West Palm Beach, I noticed so many homeless and low income people sitting close together without any face covering,” said Chambers. “People living in poverty as well as homeless individuals and those struggling with social determinants of health are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and dying from it. My colleagues and I were compelled to do something to help.”  

In addition to lifesaving PPE, FAU’s College of Nursing provides health care services for this community. The Community Health Center at UB Kinsey in West Palm Beach is a new permanent, year-round facility that opened on April 17. This historic area has a low income, medically underserved population. Health care services also are available at the FAU Nursing Community Health Center, in partnership with the Northwest Community Health Alliance. Services include mental health assessments, medication management, and behavioral interventions focused on restoration of function and quality of life. Patients learn behavior strategies to help them adhere to medical regimens, new coping mechanisms, stress reduction strategies, and pain and/or disease management techniques.

With COVID-19 concerns, primary care telehealth services are now available to patients and include routine sick and health maintenance follow-up care and management of chronic illnesses like hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and arthritis. As an American Diabetes Association “Diabetes Certified Education Center,” telehealth services also include diabetes patient and family education. Patients with chronic illnesses are currently being contacted to determine if they have need for medications, food, and information to educate them about COVID-19. Telehealth services are available in English, Spanish and Creole.

“Almost one quarter of the population in this community is uninsured and often seeks care in emergency rooms because they do not have an alternative,” said Edwards. “We want our FAU health centers to be their medical resource for primary and behavioral health care. Many of them have excessive rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, and asthma, placing them at much greater risk of dying from COVID-19. They also suffer from depression and anxiety disorders and have low levels of health literacy.”

The fabric face masks made and donated to the community are washable and reusable and made in accordance with United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. FAU College of Nursing faculty, staff and friends of the college and Northwest Community Health Alliance board members donated money to buy materials for the masks and sewed the masks themselves. They are looking for community support to cover the cost of mask production for homeless and low income individuals. A gift of $25 will cover the cost of five masks; $50 will cover the cost of 10 masks. To make a donation, visit fauf.fau.edu/nursing/ (please designate “FAU Community Health Center” for the donation).

“This mask distribution initiative and our ongoing efforts to provide health care to vulnerable populations is at the core of who we are as a college of faculty, staff and students committed to caring on deeper level,” said Safiya George, Ph.D., dean of FAU’s College of Nursing. “During this pandemic, the need for face masks or other facial protection is a basic, critical need in order to reduce risk of viral transmission and acquisition, as well as, to be able to enter a grocery store due to city ordinances. We are very fortunate to have Drs. Edwards and Chambers leading this effort at our Community Health Center with our partners from the Northwest Community Health Alliance. We are truly grateful for the generosity of our community in helping us serve those in need.”

-FAU-

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