Keck School Of Medicine Program Brings Medical Care To LA's Unhoused Residents

One of the biggest challenges the team faces is paying for care, because while most of their patients have Medi-Cal, the street is not considered a legitimate address to deliver medical care, so claims are often denied.

Video Transcript

- An inspiring story tonight. A street medic says it's his mission to share in the suffering of our neighbors grappling with homelessness. And CBS 2's Jasmine Viel shows us what drives him and who he's treating.

BRETT FELDMAN: Johnny, how's it going?

JASMINE VIEL: Another morning, another patient living on the street. Johnny, who's recovering from hand surgery, has been in a bad way for weeks.

BRETT FELDMAN: He stays at the bus stop and he tries to use it for shade.

JASMINE VIEL: While taking antibiotics to heal--

BRETT FELDMAN: He had a photo-sensitivity reaction from just constant exposure to the sun.

JASMINE VIEL: Physician Assistant, Brett Feldman, is Director of the Street Medicine Institute at Keck Hospital of USC. Los Angeles is home to an estimated 66,000 unhoused Angelenos. At bus stops, on sidewalks, in parking lots and off-ramp shantytowns throughout the city.

BRETT FELDMAN: The number one thing that we treat is actually congestive heart failure.

JASMINE VIEL: A visit typically goes down like this with Community Health Worker, Joseph Bracero.

BRETT FELDMAN: We'll come up to a location and say, good morning, this is Brett, street medicine. Anybody home? So you respect their space just like you would someone else's home. Do you need some help, Lewis? And then they come out and you begin to see them. What's going on?

JASMINE VIEL: Lewis has been a patient for the past 2 and 1/2 years.

- You're basically family, brother.

BRETT FELDMAN: We dispense medications, draw labs, we can do ultrasound on the street.

JASMINE VIEL: But before that--

BRETT FELDMAN: The first thing is to deliver that tender love. We like to hug our patients, touch our patients.

- It hurts so bad.

BRETT FELDMAN: If we're not out there taking care of them, then nobody is out there taking care of them. I know it's not the pain that's bothering you that much, what are you thinking?

JASMINE VIEL: Brett says for him street medicine is a calling still.

BRETT FELDMAN: It's really hard, and to do it well you have to be willing to share in some of their suffering with them. Right now, the conditions that we're seeing are worse than before COVID. We've always seen people under bridges, now they're sleeping inside bridges.

JASMINE VIEL: Brett and his team can only carry a caseload of about 300 patients. So they choose the ones that need them most.

BRETT FELDMAN: Folks in the hospital--

JASMINE VIEL: Once discharged and headed back to the streets.

BRETT FELDMAN: -- we asked them where they stay. And they'll say, oh, I stay in the second tent on the corner of here and here. The blue tent. We follow them on the street anywhere they go. This is a 2 by 2. Yeah, we have a 4 by 4.

JASMINE VIEL: Brett checks in with Johnny at least once a week to change bandages and make sure he gets to follow up appointments with his surgeon.

BRETT FELDMAN: You need us to come pick you up?

- At about 8 o'clock in the morning.

BRETT FELDMAN: Did you have breakfast today?

- No.

JASMINE VIEL: For today at least, that's something they can fix. Before they take off, Brett has a favor to ask. He wants to bring medical students with him on the next visit.

BRETT FELDMAN: So you're like part of their education. Yeah basically, we need your help to make sure they become good doctors.

JASMINE VIEL: Since COVID started, the hugs they used to share have been largely absent.

BRETT FELDMAN: So we've had to think of other ways to show them how much we care for them. We get referrals from one bridge to the next about their friends who they are worried about, and that's what brings me the most joy.

JASMINE VIEL: One of the biggest challenges street medicine teams face, paying for care. Even though most of their patients are insured under Medi-Cal, the street is not considered a legitimate address to deliver medical care so claims are often denied. I'm Jasmine Viel, CBS 2 News.

- Underscoring just how critical that care is, Keck Hospital of USC says the average life expectancy of the homeless is only 42- to 52-years-old.