Maura Kopchak, a second-year University of Cincinnati medical student, heard the stories of how homeless families are coping in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kopchak is a volunteer for the Urban Health Project, a UC nonprofit, student-run organization that places medical students into summer internships at nonprofit health and social service organizations in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. She spent eight weeks with Bethany House Services, a Cincinnati organization that provides housing, education and assistance to homeless families and while adhering to social distancing and safety guidelines met with homeless residents serving as an impromptu case manager.
Staffers and many volunteers at Bethany House were either furloughed or not able to assist as a result of COVID-19. It meant Kopchak was much busier as an intern than she might have been during a typical summer. Bethany House can provide assistance and a place to reside temporarily for up to 50 families.
During the summer 18 families were split between two apartment-style housing sites while residents (previously in communal living houses) were staying at local hotels as a result of the pandemic, says Kopchak.
“A lot of my time I go in and meet with clients and I try to observe good social distancing,” says Kopchak. “Everyone who comes into the shelter gets masks and then we give pamphlets on COVID regulations. A lot of it is onsite, but we do all staff meetings virtually and we meet with our community partners virtually. All of our work with clients is still face-to-face.”
Many organizations that provide resources for the region’s homeless population are either closed or operating at a reduced capacity making it particularly difficult for clients at Bethany House to get the resources that might typically be available, says Kopchak.
“It means more to them that they have face-to-face interaction and that’s part of my role,” she says.
Kopchak was one of 22 medical students at UC placed at 21 sites across the Tristate as part of the Urban Health Project. Her fellow medicals assisted varied populations in the region including groups experiencing disparities in healthcare, troubled youth, immigrants and others. Two medical students, Maddy VandenBrink and Eunice Agyapong, served as co-directors of the Urban Health Project.
The organization will host a virtual presentation, 2020 Committed to Community on Tuesday, July 28, starting at 5:30 p.m. Robert Neel, MD, associate professor of neurology and director of the Neurology Residency Program in the UC College of Medicine, will offer a keynote address. Neel is also director of the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Clinic at UC Health.
Tessa Keiser, a second-year medical student, interned at First Step Home, a treatment facility for women with substance use disorders, catering especially to the needs of women who are pregnant or have young children. Keiser says she learned about the nature of addiction and witnessed the mental, physical and emotional struggles it creates for individuals in recovery.
“I believe that my internship has made me better prepared to provide empathetic and practical care for patients struggling with addiction in my future clinical practice,” explains Keiser.