Kira Sandon, PA-C (Spokane Class 18), stands outside the Heritage Health mobile unit in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. This specially fitted RV is part of the clinic’s homeless outreach program. Sandon worked in these tight quarters last summer under the guidance of her family practice preceptor, TJ Byrne, PA-C. Together, they followed a published schedule of stops in Coeur d’Alene and neighboring Post Falls.

Providing street medicine was part of the learning experience for Kira Sandon, Pa-C (Spokane Class 18), pictured above with her mentor, TJ Byrne, PA-C.
Photo: James Wehmeyer

“We take the mobile unit to the homeless. We go where people gather, such as the shelters, soup kitchens and food banks, and they come on for all of their medical needs, essentially,” says Sandon.

The mobile unit can handle minor procedures, including casting, splinting and excision of lesions. But Sandon notes that not all the care is physical. “A lot of what we provide involves some social work, or some psych care,” Sandon says. “Some people just want somebody to listen to them without judgement.” Patients may also find some food, water or basic over-the-counter medications on the mobile unit.

“They’re so appreciative and polite and thankful,” she says. “You know, they don’t really have anything, and what little we could give them makes their day. I really like what Heritage does for the homeless. We treat everybody with respect, and they give that back to us.”

Byrne, formerly teaching faculty at the MEDEX Spokane site, is in charge of Homeless Outreach for Heritage Health in Coeur d’Alene. Some days, this involves driving the mobile unit. On some scheduled afternoons, though, Byrne and Sandon practice street medicine. They leave the RV behind, load medical supplies into a backpack, and walk to where the homeless or nearly homeless are camped out.

“TJ knows where people are staying, or if they can’t get out to us,” she says. “A lot of them are living in a motel room or RV, and we go to them and take care of their needs. They are really a community — many of them give us tips about someone they know who isn’t doing well, and we seek them out and find out if they’ll accept our help.”

Sandon enjoyed her training with Byrne, a marked change of pace from her previous medical experience. “My background is primarily in the operating room,” she says. For 13 years, she worked at a Coeur d’Alene hospital, the last seven as a surgical first assist.

As Sandon looks ahead to her future as a physician assistant, she considers all of her deep connections in the Coeur d’Alene area. “My heart is really in surgery, so right now I’m primarily looking into those specialties,” she says.

“That said, if I could have the opportunity to work alongside TJ every day, I would do it in a heartbeat,” says Sandon. “He is the epitome of healthcare from the heart.”

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