An aspiring doctor and her mentor are creating care packages for coronavirus patients experiencing homelessness. What’s inside? A handful of hygiene products, hand sanitizer, earbuds, handwritten notes, and activity books filled with crosswords or Sudoku.
“Individuals experiencing homelessness are facing very unique challenges in the current pandemic,” said Haya Raef, the third-year Tufts University medical student behind the project. “They are one of the most neglected populations.”
The products are collected from businesses, both small and large, who contribute money or directly supply masks, toothbrushes, soap, and other products. With the help of their families, Raef, her partner Dr. Jennifer Tan, and volunteers package the materials in portable Ziploc baggies from home.
Then, the group launches an effort to get the kits to resource and health care centers in Maine and Massachusetts. Raef is in contact with organizations in Portland, where she lives and was researching for months before the pandemic hit. She also drives to Massachusetts every two weeks to hand off kits to Tan, a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Healthcare for the Homeless.
Patients receive the kits when they first arrive at centers as a sort of “welcome kit,” said Tan.
“This not only increases their access to these products,” she explained. “It’s an acknowledgment of our common humanity during this time.”
Approximately 600 packages have been distributed to sites, including Boston Hope and local quarantine tents, since early March. More are on the way.
Raef and Tan thought of the idea in the early days of the crisis. The pair established their student-mentor relationship two years earlier when Raef was a BHCHP volunteer and have since collaborated on multiple projects. When the pandemic halted Raef’s clinical rotations in Maine, she told Tan she didn’t want to stop helping the BHCHP’s cause.
“I was pulled out of the hospital at this critical time,” said Raef. “So I found another way to contribute.”
Both Raef and Tan are looking forward to their next initiative: skin care kits for frontline workers.
Donned in head-to-toe personal protective equipment for most of the day, health care professionals have seen an uptick in conditions like acne and eczema, explained Tan. Packages stuffed with over-the-counter products and helpful information will be assembled and delivered.
“A lot of skin complications have arose from PPE,” said Tan. “This could help the people who are helping everyone else at this time.”