The San Francisco peninsula, famous for picturesque neighborhoods surrounding a majestic bay, is also tragically home to thousands of marginalized and homeless young people. For many of these uninsured or underinsured adolescents, the San Francisco Peninsula program provides a lifeline of medical, nutrition and mental health services. It is also a haven where caring adults help vulnerable youth, aged 10 to 25, work toward healthier and more stable lives. Operated in partnership with Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University, the program is called the Teen Van, and its mobile medical clinic staff reach out to needy adolescents where they congregate— at schools, shelters and community service sites in the tri-county area of San Francisco, San Mateo County and Santa Clara County.
BUILDING TRUST WITH MARGINALIZED YOUTH
Each year over 400 homeless and/or impoverished youth turn to the mobile clinic when they get sick, suffer mental health challenges, or need help finding and accessing social services. The program’s long-time medical director, Dr. Seth Ammerman, works with a pediatric nurse practitioner, a registered dietitian and two social workers. The team has learned that establishing trust with the often brutalized young people they serve is an essential step in helping them.
As these compassionate medical professionals are busy treating infections, rashes, and symptoms of the chronic conditions so many of these young people suffer with, they also work to understand the life circumstances and mental health challenges that are affecting the health and well-being of their adolescent patients. This takes time, and the average visit lasts over an hour. When young people trust their providers and see results, they keep coming back. “The fact that over 70% of our patients return for subsequent care tells me that we are taking the right approach,” Dr. Ammerman says.
ONE STEP AT A TIME
The team sees many patients who are malnourished, whose untreated illnesses and lack of access to medications have led to deteriorating health. Not surprisingly, many also suffer from mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Addressing all these issues is often a step by step process, with progress on one front fueling progress on the next. “Success then breeds success,” Dr. Ammerman notes. “Then we can say, ‘Hey you did it! That’s great!” and move on to the next challenge.