Every Thursday morning, Susan Partovi fills her backpack with antibiotics, bandages, a blood-sugar machine and antifungal cream, then grabs a clipboard and stethoscope and hits the streets of Venice and Santa Monica with two outreach workers and a mental-health professional. Their stops, in a program dubbed Street Medicine, include Third Street Promenade, neighborhood parks and the shower facilities underneath the Santa Monica Pier — local hangouts for the two cities’ 1,500 homeless.
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In the past year, Partovi has removed sutures and staples, cleaned wounds, treated bronchitis and diagnosed diabetes. It’s not the most savory work in the world: She recently treated a Latino man suffering from a facial abscess the size of a golf ball.
“We had to get him a coffee and cigarettes” before he would agree to go to the hospital, says the freckle-faced 40-year-old.
Partovi started Street Medicine in January 2007 as a way to help the homeless who refuse, or are too afraid, to go to hospitals. “Our goal is to get people with chronic conditions who don’t know it, or don’t want to go to the clinic because of mental illness. We develop relationships with them, and sometimes we can convince them to come to a clinic.” Her job doesn’t just include street care. When she isn’t scouring the beach cities, she runs Homeless Health Care Los Angeles’ needle exchange and wound-care clinic in the heart of Skid Row. Unfortunately, business is booming. Besides her regulars, she sees about 15 new patients a week, mostly for hardcore staph infections like MRSA. She even treated herself for the highly infectious bug, having picked it up at the Fourth Street clinic.
“It wasn’t a big deal,” she says. “It was little infections.”
In September 2006, Partovi started a program called Junkies Saving Junkies, which teaches addicts how to save other addicts from overdosing by administering an opiate inhibitor. So far, the program has saved 30 people. Vladimir, who said he became a heroin addict after a car accident killed his wife and daughter, wasn’t so lucky. The homeless man was a regular at Partovi’s clinic for years. Then he vanished.
“You don’t know what that means,” she says. “Are they in jail? Are they clean? Does it mean they are dead?”
Bad news travels fast in Skid Row. Vladimir was in jail, and upon his release he was no longer accustomed to heroin. He took his usual dose, and died. For the incredibly tough, deeply committed Susan Partovi, Vladimir’s passing was just a part of the reality of life on the street.
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