Traditionally the most underserved and neglected members of our communities, the homeless are a visible reminder of the individuals who, for various reasons, fall through the cracks of society. Whether it be due to lack of of community resources to treat mental illness and substance abuse, or simply unfortunate circumstances, the homeless face an abundance of challenges beyond not having adequate housing, including reduced access to health care and education, increased risk of violence and abuse, and importantly, demoralizing social stigma.
In 2002, a small group of UC Davis medical students saw a need in the homeless community in Sacramento, and were compelled to act. A symbol of healing and stability due to its deep roots, the Willow tree was chosen as the logo of their screening clinic, which became known as the Willow Project. In conjunction with the Salvation Army and the County of Sacramento, The Willow Project first opened its doors staffed entirely by undergraduate and medical students. Although the clinic lacked prescription medications and physicians, and was funded entirely through fundraising events held throughout the year, its enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers were determined to change the quality of life of the neediest members of their community. Patients were screened for hypertension, diabetes, mental illness, lice/scabies, and other chronic illnesses, and referred to the appropriate community resources when required.
Working with this patient population, it immediately became clear just how prevalent chronic illness, in particular mental illness and substance abuse, was among the homeless and how desperately this gap in care needed to be filled. Thus, over the span of several years, the undergraduate and medical student volunteers worked with the UC Davis School of Medicine, with sponsorship from the Department of Psychiatry-Medicine and Psychiatry advisory Group, to convert the Willow Project to the Willow Clinic, a fully functional university affiliated student-run clinic. The Willow Clinic in the only Med/Psych clinic, focusing not only on the general medical needs of its patients, but also on their mental health needs. The opening of the Willow Clinic at the start of 2009 signaled a newfound commitment to the underserved homeless population in Sacramento, and also underscored the importance of preventative and holistic patient care, being able to treat both the mind and the body.
Currently featuring an expanded dispensary, extended community resources, dental services and nutrition counseling, the Willow Clinic is a growing fixture in the safety net of healthcare in Sacramento and is excited to fulfill this unique niche for its underserved community.