Working with our most vulnerable

The Wellington Downtown Community Ministry (DCM), supporting homeless people in the city for more than 50 years, is farewelling one of its most valued supporters, retiring ophthalmologist Dr Paul Herrick.

 

“We have so valued Paul’s generosity and commitment to the vulnerable people we work with every day at DCM,” said Michelle Scott, DCM’s manager of health services. “When he first approached us, we hadn’t even dreamed of being able to offer this kind of support. To see people leave with a pair of glasses and a big smile on their faces says it all.”

 

DCM supports people who are experiencing homelessness, working with them to find suitable housing, access benefits, manage their money and connect with whānau, health and other services and support. Over the past five years, the number of health services and support DCM offers in-house has grown significantly. Te Aro Health Centre, established in 1985 in response to an increased need for healthcare for those living on the streets of inner-city Wellington, operates a satellite clinic at DCM.

 

Ready readers at the ready

 

Reflecting on the years he has volunteered his ophthalmology expertise at DCM’s hub in Lukes Lane, Wellington, Dr Herrick said he found the eye complaints very similar to those he encountered at hospital. “It’s a place of triage. Some patients just need reading glasses, others need to see an optometrist for refraction, while some, mostly with cataracts, are referred to Wellington Hospital.”

 

The DCM staff follow up and support people to connect with other health professionals, to attend appointments or to find ways of funding necessary treatments, he said. “And then there is the low-hanging fruit – I bring a pile of reading glasses down and sometime these are all that’s needed.

 

“In some ways, it is a drop-in clinic. And, in the course of a few hours, many can be seen and helped. Unless you offer a service like this, at a place where the most marginalised people genuinely feel welcome and so spend time, you don’t find out what the issues are and what support is needed.”

 

 

Dr Herrick at work at DCM. Credit: Mary Hutchinson

 

Keeping an eye on taumai

 

Herrick’s patients – or ‘taumai’ as DCM calls them, meaning ‘to settle’ – are grateful for the eye health services provided. "I was having blurred vision and starting to get pretty worried about my eyes,” said taumai Jay Jay. “Paul checked my vision and told me I might have what's called a macular hole. He's now referred me to a specialist and I'm making sure I get along to my appointments so this can be fixed."

 

Taumai Athena discovered she had cataracts after seeing Herrick. "I wanted to get on top of my health concerns, so I saw Paul. He found out I had cataracts! That was a big surprise. I'm pleased though, because he explained to me that this can be treated, so I'm looking forward to getting it sorted soon," she said.

 

“I’m just one of a whole community who brings their skills to DCM,” said Dr Herrick, adding that his dentist, David Corcoran, regularly offers taumai dental sessions. “The fascinating thing about working here has been meeting such a broad cross-section of people. Some come in with a backpack containing all their worldly possessions. When I was making a referral to the hospital, one man gave his address as ‘The Soup Kitchen’. The most amazing thing for me, however, has been watching the DCM staff, how they are with people, how they know all of them by name. It’s a very special place and it has been very special for me to be part of this work.”

 

DCM is keen to connect with other eyecare professionals who may like to help out occasionally at DCM. For more see, www.dcm.org.nz/success-stories or email matthew@dcm.org.nz.

 

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