MISSOULA - Bitter cold temperatures can cause even more problems and injuries for those who sleep outside.
This is one of the reasons Open Aid Alliance offers free wound care to people experiencing houselessness.
Open Aid Alliance has a variety of programs that help folks who are unhoused, including free winter clothing, food supplies and STD or COVID-19 testing.
Together, Aisha Golie, a part-time ER nurse, and Open Aid Alliance executive director Christa Weathers, came up with the idea for a free wound care clinic to provide basic medical care to those unable to access more formal doctor's offices.
“Especially with different populations and the unhoused, there are so many barriers that we just don’t even think of," Golie said. “We see a pretty wide array of people that come in to use our services, and for quite a few of them there are barriers between the care they need and being able to get to that care.”
Beyond cost and transportation, emergency rooms can be intimidating for some.
“Unfortunately there are some trust issues that get in the way sometimes too, I know it's hard to go into an ER if that’s the only resource that you have available," Golie says. "A lot of people will just avoid getting care because they don’t want to deal with the stigma of going in and feeling like they’re getting treated differently.”
Lots of people come to Open Aid for their other services, so it is easy and natural to offer them medical care.
“When it’s just casually made available, like 'hey we’re here,' it kind of removes any of the barriers of even just trying to get themselves to a clinic or to a facility. They’re already here, they’re already addressing other needs that they have," Golie says.
While the Open Aid Allaince clinic cannot solve all medical emergencies, they are able to provide basic care that can prevent further infection or injury.
They hand out to-go first aid kits and teach people how to care for themselves. The first aid kits include gauze, tape and sterile gloves.
Even the comfort of being looked at by a trained medical professional can make a big difference.
“Actually a lot of the time, people that come in, really a lot of the time it ends up just being reassurance and kind of teaching them what they can do for themselves," Golie says.
These resources are even more important in the winter months when skin and cuts are exposed to the cold.
“The most common thing, especially this time of the year in the winter, is cold injuries," Golie said. "We live in an extremely dry climate.”
A lot of the supplies in the wound care facility are donated by community members and local clinics.
Golie and the other Open Aid Alliance wound care nurse also donate some of the supplies.
With a high demand for supplies, Open Aid Alliance often also has to order more materials with their own donation money.
Golie says they always appreciate public donations," it’s always nice to have more, because the demand is pretty high.”
More than supplies, Open Aid Allaince is in need of more medical professionals.
Golie is one of only two nurses on staff, and they can cover only partial hours three days a week.
“Anyone with medical training that would be interested in donating some time to come and help people out," Golie says. "Right now we have, we’re open four days a week, but we have only three of those days and only part of the hours covered for wound care, so the more people we can get in here that might be able to help and offer their expertise, that would be amazing.”
More information on Open Aid Alliance can be found here.