Medical student Christian Bergman distributes breakfast to a homeless man. (Photo by Rick Kopstein/Biocommunications)
Medical student Christian Bergman distributes breakfast to a homeless man. (Photo by Rick Kopstein/Biocommunications)

Medical Students Rally to Help Tucson's Homeless Amid Pandemic

Concerned about how the pandemic will impact the homeless population, UArizona Health Sciences students are screening Tucson’s homeless for symptoms of COVID-19.
April 8, 2020
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From left: University of Arizona medical students Christian Bergman, Erika Krall and Christopher Vance set up camping tents on the property of Z Mansion to serve as isolation units for homeless people suspected to have COVID-19. (Photo by Rick Kopstein/Biocommunications)
From left: University of Arizona medical students Christian Bergman, Erika Krall and Christopher Vance set up camping tents on the property of Z Mansion to serve as isolation units for homeless people suspected to have COVID-19. (Photo by Rick Kopstein/Biocommunications)

Students in the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson are stepping up to help Tucson's homeless population amid concerns the population will be hit hard by COVID-19.

"This is a vulnerable population in our community; they can't defend themselves in a society already running short on supplies and resources," said Christian Bergman, a UArizona medical student who will graduate in 2021.

To help, Bergman and fellow medical students are volunteering at Z Mansion, a popular downtown wedding venue that doubles as a soup kitchen for the homeless on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. The venue has seen a drop in the number of regular volunteers since the start of the pandemic, Bergman said. 

During each shift, students suit up in personal protective equipment, including gloves, medical masks and plastic face shields. Then, they prepare and serve meals but also screen visitors — who are asked to remain 6 feet apart — for symptoms of COVID-19. Individuals with potential or suspected infection are isolated outdoors in tents on the property. These makeshift "wards" are staffed by UArizona medical students, who distribute food three times a day and monitor patients for worsening conditions. 

"We provide basic supportive care in a controlled environment and transport patients in acute distress to a higher level of care," said medical student volunteer Erika Krall.

The students' efforts will be overseen by licensed volunteer health care providers, as well as Tom Hill, the owner of Z Mansion and founder of WORKship, a program dedicated to serving Tucson's homeless population. 

The COVID-19 pandemic does not represent the first time UArizona medical students have volunteered at Z Mansion. Through Health for the Homeless, one of the college's Commitment to Underserved People programs, students regularly host clinics for the homeless, alongside volunteer UArizona physicians. To reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, those clinics are on temporary hold. 

"Medical students feel it is their duty to assist in times like these," said medical student Christopher Vance, who has volunteered at Z Mansion for the past six years. "We saw an opportunity to put our training to use and help our community."

The students are accepting food donations to continue feeding the homeless, and they are accepting cold compresses and hydration supplements, such as electrolyte powders and Pedialyte equivalents.

"We also would love to borrow large canopies to provide shade in the parking lot for the quarantine tents as the summer months approach," Vance said.

A version of this story originally appeared on the College of Medicine – Tucson website: https://medicine.arizona.edu/news/2020/medical-students-rally-help-tucsons-homeless-amidst-pandemic.